The new US President: Barry the Menteng Kid

The headlines on this morning's Jakarta Post said it all: Barry's done it!

They were of course referring to the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the U.S, who is affectionately known in Indonesia as Barry.

You often seen references to him in the Indonesian press as the 'Anak Menteng' (the 'Menteng Kid') because Obama lived in Jakarta as a child from 1967 to 1971, and for some of that time went to a school in the suburb of Menteng.

My taxi driver to Jakarta airport seemed ecstatic about the news.

“Who would think son of Muslim man could be elected President of United States,” he said. “I so happy.”

In somewhat broken English, he went on to explain that he believed that because Barack Obama had a Muslim father who was black, and a Christian mother who was white, he would be able to transcend racial and religious boundaries and bring more understanding to the world.

“Barry is best man to bring peace to the world,” he said.

“That George Bush – he no good – he always want war. That McCain man – he worse than Bush. And that Salem woman – she worst of all!” he exclaimed. (I assume he was referring to Sarah Palin).

In a way, that Jakarta taxi driver reflects the aspirations of people all around the world. Whilst in the U.S. about 48% of the population still voted for McCain (final results not tallied yet of course) in other parts of the world Obama was the clear favourite – and in some countries would have polled up to 90% of the vote.

I read a story in a paper on the plane back to Kuala Lumpur that said that surveys taken around the world showed that if Obama had been standing for President of the World, he would have won in every country except Israel, Georgia and the Philippines.

The rest of the world – as well as the majority of Americans – have high expectations for Obama.

In my lifetime there has only been one other U.S. president that I can recall as having attracted so much adulation at the time he was elected – and that was John F. Kennedy who was elected in 1961 at the age of 43. Some have likened Obama to JFK because of their oratory skills and their ability to inspire the electorate with their visions.

I was only a kid when JFK was assassinated two years later – but I remember how the news stunned me at the time, and the outpouring of grief around the world.

Many people have already expressed the fear that the same might happen to Obama. That would be a tragedy for the world. However, we should take comfort in the fact the the U.S. Secret Service is no doubt a hundred times better equipped than it was in 1963 – and they must all have in the back of their minds what happened in Dallas, Texas, on that fateful day nearly 45 years ago. Let's hope they live up to the reputation they have earned over the past four decades.

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