President Barack Obama - as of about nine a.m. PST on Tuesday, it's the first time in my budding journalism career I have been able to put those words together.
His inauguration drew in about 1.8 million people, American and otherwise. This is on record as being the second largest gathering of people in American history, and it's not because getting to Washington D.C. and standing in the cold was easy, cheap or comfortable. Hundreds of millions more took time from work or home activities to tune in on TV or online. Why so many? Every one wants to feel included, and that's going to be a new theme in the American political narrative for the next few years.
Obama's charisma, his celebrity and campaign confidence drew criticism from conservative pundits and bloggers accusing him of getting a free ride from the media.
But does Obama owe his presidency to the editors and bureau chiefs in newsrooms in North America and around the world? Hardly.The media did not create him any more than it created Woodstock, the Kennedy family, Trudeaumania or any other cultural or political phenomenon. The media simply would have been remiss to ignore the sensation that built Obama up from the grassroots, and there is a reason for it. Inclusiveness. Obama personifies it, and on a scale we haven't seen, maybe ever.
I had been a bit skeptical of journalists referring to him as "America's first black president," as I thought it cheapened his win based on policy and the ability to lead and motivate a public exhausted from war, erosion of civil rights, environmental regression and a host of other Bush-era gifts we can now stop dwelling on.
But watching the inauguration and seeing the hundreds of thousands of black Americans, many of them old enough to remember the days of segregation and staying home on election day for fear of personal violence, saying "I never thought I would live to see the day," it finally clicked. Obama hasn't constructed so much enthusiasm and emotion in America for policy's sake. He is a powerful symbol as well. For the first time at the executive level in America, children can look and believe "anything is possible."
What he has inspired in the American people and the media has gone global, and it isn't because of race. Polls conducted before the election showed that if citizens around the world were able to vote in the U.S. election, Obama would have had a stranglehold on it. The only countries whose citizens preferred McCain were Algeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq (oddly enough). In Canada, those polled preferred Obama to the tune of about 90 per cent. When the Canadian media asks, "What does Obama's presidency mean to us?" the answer is clear. It means we have a leader next door we can identify with.
It all speaks to that inclusiveness. The rest of the world is ready for Obama's values and vision of change. They want to be a part of America's return.
Who will raise their hand and be counted amongst those who watched this revolution from home or work on TV or the Internet? Include me.