The audacity of determination
Barack Obama and Hubert Ingraham share more than a birthday. Both were raised by their maternal grandmothers, rising to prominence despite a lack of social and economic privilege. While Ingraham experienced greater economic poverty, both leaders had hard mountains to climb personally and politically.
Their personal stories and political journeys have made them respectively extraordinary examples of the Bahamian and the American dreams. Both chose the law as their profession and politics as their vocation. Both first came to office propelled by that perennial theme in politics, the mantra of change.
Through dint of will and with keen intelligence they have crafted audacious life stories. The title of Obama’s autobiography, “The Audacity of Hope” is a variation on the theme of Ingraham’s biography which might be entitled, “The Audacity of Determination”.
The themes of hope and determination speak to similar threads running through their personal cum political careers, especially their triumph over disadvantage to empower themselves and others to more fully realize the dreams and privileges of American and Bahamian citizenship. The threads include how their personal narratives influenced their visions and policies.
President Obama spoke of how his mother’s death from cancer and the struggle to pay her medical bills influenced his pursuit of universal health coverage. In his crime address in October, Prime Minister Ingraham wove together his personal journey and public life in a compelling Bahamian story.
“I grew up in what was then a remote part of Abaco called Cooper’s Town. I came up at a time when there were few opportunities for a poor boy like me born to a single parent. The first time I met my father was when I was 11 years old.
“Even though I didn’t possess material wealth, I had wealth more everlasting: Mama, who instilled in me a sense of my own worth as belonging to her and as a child of God.
“She schooled me in the knowledge that the land of my birth, The Bahamas we all love, is a land of opportunity for anyone willing to work hard.
“As a boy, never in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine becoming an attorney, Member of Parliament or minister of government let alone prime minister. But having been given this great privilege I have dedicated my public life to providing every Bahamian boy and girl with opportunities I never had.”
He then linked his biography to the values which propel his vision of a modern Bahamas: “This is why I have never stopped working to make sure that every Bahamian child on every island in every settlement in The Bahamas has decent schools and access to higher education. This is why my government ensures that everyone meeting a certain criteria and academic standards can attend the College of The Bahamas at public expense.”
Media critic Marshall McLuhan’s signature observation, “the medium is the message” has a corollary in terms of political biographies.
The values and visions expressed by President Obama and Prime Minister Ingraham emanate from compelling biographies in which they themselves are the mediums for the messages of hope and determination, and the triumph over the circumstances of birth to realize one’s abilities and ambitions as examples of respectively American and Bahamian success stories.
Perry Christie and likely U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have impressive resumes. Still, their biographies are no match for that of Ingraham and Obama. Both Christie and Romney grew up with considerably more privilege than the U.S. president and the Bahamian prime minister who have come much further considering their life origins.
Absent early material advantage, hope and determination are usually even that much more essential in building character and fortifying one’s resilience in the face of adversity.
A less advantaged child growing up in a rural town in the southern United States or a remote settlement in the southern Bahamas or the urban poverty of an American city or New Providence can more easily identify with the journeys of Barack Obama and Hubert Ingraham.
The silver-spooned Franklin Delano Roosevelt who led America through the Great Depression and World War II deeply empathized with his countrymen’s needs during these crises despite his privileged background.
He is said to have lifted up America after lifting himself up after battling through the physically and potentially psychologically crippling disease of polio which left him wheelchair-bound throughout his presidency. FDR did not have to feign empathy for those ravaged by war or economic catastrophe. The manner in which polio ravaged his body produced in him an extraordinary empathy.
Likewise Hubert Ingraham did not have to feign empathy or compassion for poor Bahamians throughout his public career or today for those affected by the worst economic crises to hit The Bahamas since the Great Depression.
In the times in which they are leading Barack Obama and Hubert Ingraham have no less a vision than did FDR in his time. What Roosevelt possessed was the ability to constantly remind America of a broader narrative of what was at stake and where he wanted to take America.
President Obama has noted that in the midst of economic crises and other challenges of governance, that he often forgot to remind the American people of a broader narrative and his vision for America amidst relentless attacks and sometimes demonization by political opponents, especially those discredited by their past record and paucity of sensible ideas to meet current challenges.
Prime Minister Ingraham probably empathizes with Obama as both face re-election in 2012. Still, despite potentially tough electoral contests amidst tough economic times they have compelling biographies and impressive records for what will be Obama’s last campaign for the presidency and, in all likelihood, Ingraham’s final campaign to lead The Bahamas.