The common theme running around Spain these days — particularly in Barcelona — is that the recently sworn in Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, will solve all of Spain’s problems. No, not just America’s problems but Spain’s problems, too. Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and his dwindling popularity, plays second fiddle even in his own country. Mr. Zapatero has yet to make good on many of his promises dating back to 2004, while making even grander promises during the 2008 election. To this I say, “Buena suerte, España.” An astonishing 33 percent of Americans do not pay taxes. As one can politely imagine, the percentage is much higher in Spain. Couple that with the fact that unemployment could rise close to 20 percent in the near future, the highest in the Eurozone, and it is safe to assume that there simply can be no quick fix — Barack Obama or not.
On January 20, thousands of people took to the tapas bars and restaurants around Barcelona to see the man who consciously casts himself as the global leader of a globalized society – or more simply put, the world’s citizen. On this much celebrated evening, I happened to go to two bars to check out the scene.
At my first stop, Hard Rock Café Barcelona, the anticipation was so great that lines were out the door two hours prior to the broadcast. Granted the Hard Rock serves mostly Americans, but this was still remarkable. The atmosphere was electric with cheers and hugs and high fives. As spectacular as it was, it was all “demasiado,” or too much, as my home stay mom loves to cry.
Shortly after the speech I scooted over to “Obama,” a British-African bar two blocks down from the Hard Rock. (The bar came into being before Mr. Obama’s rise). Here the crowd was more raucous, with everyone ordering shots and pints of Estrella beer in honor of the newly-elected American President. It was quite a scene, to say the least.
Despite his being one of the most gifted orators of this generation, I was left rather uninspired by Mr. Obama’s Inauguration speech. It was, historically speaking, concise. In addition the president chose not to speak directly to Americans for parts of his speech, a first and certainly an interesting move. Only time will tell how his words pan out, both domestically and internationally.
Overall, Mr. Obama’s sentiments were not original at all. What was new were the assumptions behind his direct references and calls to “the Muslim world,” “the people of poor nations” and “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit.” To be sure, all these people were watching.
But what caught my ear — as it did many other Americans — were Mr. Obama’s closing words. Instead of invoking the Founding Fathers as has been done time after time, Mr. Obama chose to call on the words of Thomas Paine, an Englishman, whose written words in The America Crisis were read by George Washington to his troops as they camped by the Delaware River in 1776, the lowest point of the Revolutionary War:
“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.”
Mr. Obama chose, in other words, to recall a moment of failure, not of victory, thus humbling America in the process. These words were intended to evoke a desperate time in which the corner would soon be turned. But as Mr. Obama said himself, it is not the work of one man. Instead it is the will of the American people to right our ship.
In his first move as President, Mr. Obama closed down Guantanamo Bay. As John McCain recently remarked, closing Gitmo is the easy part. It was the correct move and a necessary one at that, but it doesn’t solve all that much and might have been hasty. After years of impediments and delays, Mr. Obama should have let the military commissions continue. The problem now becomes what to do with those we have in custody. No country will take them back.
Furthermore, I agree with Senator McCain that Mr. Obama’s stimulus package amounts to nothing more than a spending package with a lack of direction. It is true that many stimulus packages do not necessarily require precise direction, but it is also true that we have not seen a crisis such as this one since the 1970s. Significant direct relief to American workers in the form of payroll tax cuts would be a good starting place.
Unfortunately, as excited as everyone in Spain is that Mr. Obama took the time to call Mr. Zapatero during his first days in office — something Spaniards claim that Dubya never did — the expectations have been set unprecedentedly high for a man taking office amidst a nation and world full of complicated problems. While it will be impossible to meet all the expectations, phone calls won’t be enough for the Spaniards, and the calls certainly won’t be enough for Americans.