The talk of change, tossed around so frequently in the past weeks of American politics, has definitely resonated with a great many people. It is not only in America, however, that the prospect of change is casting a new light, reluctantly hazy as it may still be, on the future.
A year ago, November 2006, we reported from Jakarta on the currents in Indonesia upon George W. Bushâ€™s meeting with President Yudyohono at the presidential palace outside the capital city. The past decade has seen a steady and even dramatic decline in the perception of the United States around the world, and Indonesia is no exception. When President Bushâ€™s helicopter touched down on that balmy Javanese day, he was greeted not only by his Indonesian counterpart but by a rally of Indonesian citizens, journalists and activists that numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The previous weeks had seen the Indonesian media, a public outlet for the freest democracy in South East Asia, resounding with anger at the American administration and at Indonesiaâ€™s own willingness to bend over backwards to accommodate the visiting president. The protest that marched towards the site of the meeting was the culmination of that anger. Although peaceful, hundreds of thousands of armed soldiers went to outlandish extremes to secure the entire city of Bogor, shutting down all cellular activity, restricting movement, and surrounding the palace with barricades and tanks. Unpopular policies in Palestine, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, and what many saw as Americaâ€™s disregard for human rights in its military prisons made Bush into enemy number one, at least for the day.
One of the most fascinating presidential elections in recent memory has captured the imagination of the Indonesian people â€“ and the imagination of Americans, for that matter. Many Americans are as frustrated as the rest of the world at what they see as the failure of American policy over the past eight years.
Every politician knows, of course, that you cannot please all the people all the time. The successful ones, however, figure out how to please the right ones at the right time. But then, there are those that seem to excite everyone, for at least a moment. At this particular moment, it seems that Barack Obama has gotten very close to capturing the imagination of the many that have been desperately searching for leadership that can harness the incredible energy, the anxiety and creativity and hope, of America.
The word Change has indeed been tossed around enough in the past few weeks to put it in danger of non-meaning. It may be understandable then that, despite a deep desire for this change after years of a destructively narrow status quo, many Americans and people from around the world are cynical when a politician evokes this word.
The fact that Barack Obama spent part of his youth in Jakarta and that his mother was married to an Indonesian has been an entry point for Indonesian interest in the Democratic presidential candidate. However, described as a phenomenon in American politics, Obama has captured the Indonesian imagination. He is seen by many Indonesians as a leader that speaks of unity, not division, of cooperation and not unilateralism, of hope and change, not fear.