Today’s U.S. midterm elections remind us of Obama and how P-Noy is often compared to him.
In fact the differences between them are greater than the similarities.
Both men were elected in reaction to the discredited Presidencies that preceded them, Obama to what many viewed as an intellectually dishonest Administration; Aquino to, well, a simply dishonest Government.
Obama and Aquino, Messiahs almost, rode to victory on chariots of hope and change.
Obama was born to a mixed-race family in a society still healing from the guilt of segregation, abandoned by his father when young, a Harvard educated community organizer, a first time Senator, an outsider, a Don Quijote out to battle the windmills of traditional politics.
Aquino was born to a wealthy political family in a society that equates power with money, a father martyred when he was young, an insider, heir to a destiny, bearer of a torch kindled in an airport tarmac a quarter century ago.
The differences in background are reflected in their style, their vision and, most important, in their ambition for the nations they lead.
Obama is the overachiever, a man in a hurry for what he wants for his country. His style is half academic, half street- smart politics. His prose is soaring, his vision big. He measures achievements in overarching terms, brushes with the broad strokes of history.
Aquino is the reluctant President, measured in his steps, cautious of venturing beyond his past, his friendships, and his zone of comfort. He speaks plainly in the language of his audience. He has a vision of a progressive community free of corruption, a feeling for justice and fairness borne from the circumstances of his father’s death; yet is unsure about the sweeping actions that will translate this to reality.
Obama is a transformational President, Aquino a transactional one. Obama speaks of healthcare reform and the environment, Aquino of wang-wangs, $54 hotdogs and $2.4 billion foreign investments.
The two men have seen their approval ratings drop, in the case of Obama more than Aquino. This reflects the more difficult conditions that the former inherited but also in their differing political landscapes.
The U.S. is an ideologically divided nation suffering from the worst economic recession since the 1930 Depression and two unpopular wars. The U.S. is a nation in fear, in fear of terrorism,in fear of economic hardship, in fear of change in its way of life.
The Philippines has no such issues. We are not ideological, are accustomed to violence, are knowing of economic want, and are desirous of change in our daily circumstances.
There is another reason for the fall in favor of Obama relative to Aquino.
Obama sought the Presidency, while with Aquino the Presidency sought him. This is reflected in their vision of leadership.
Obama is more ambitious for his country than his country is of itself. He wants to make quantum changes in the national paradigm that Americans are unprepared for. Healthcare reform, cap and trade, and economic restructuring are measures that require sacrifices. They involve a shift in thinking that is perhaps too big for the average American to appreciate.
In Aquinos’ case the opposite applies. The nation is wanting more of the President than he is of himself. The Filipino wants P-Noy to exercise his vast mandate to bring the nation to the limits of its potential. Aquino is awkward with this. He is content with business as usual, with incremental steps. He prefers the road more travelled, the safer route with less chance of failure but also of major endeavors.
So it is, two men elected on platforms of change, on wings of expectations.
In a sense their roles should have been reversed. Obama should have been elected Philippine President, Aquino U.S. President.
Obama’s ambition would have matched the dreams of the Filipino, his scope would have suited the values and programs that we need to become a model in the world stage.
Aquino’s pace and vision would have been more comfortable to the American public, less grandiose, more attuned to its level of understanding.
If that had occurred, America would possibly be less divided.
If that had occurred, the Philippines would, unquestionably, be more transformed.