Like millions of people around the world, I watched Obama’s inauguration yesterday and, like millions of people around the world, kinda wished he could be our guy. I am generally not given to being more interested in American politics than our own – unlike many people I know, I passed over the Biden/Palin debate to watch our own leadership candidates duke it out. Obama is exciting, though. Not only is he the first black president of the United States, which is amazing when you think of how recently black Americans actually got their civil rights, but he’s also a visionary who seems ready to lead his country in the current challenging times, and to give them a sense of identity and pride.
And so I watched the inauguration with excitement yesterday but, while I have a bit of charismatic leader-envy, there were elements that reminded me how different America and Canada are, and made me happy that I belong to this relatively boring and laid-back nation.
The first thing that struck me (and many of my colleagues have also mentioned it) was the overt Christian-ness of the whole process. While Obama did point out in his speech that Americans are of all beliefs, they still had Rick Warren give his very Christian prayer, leaving no question that American is one nation “under God”. The religious background of most Canadian leaders is a non-issue – I hear that Ignatieff is Orthodox. Who knew? And who cares? We let our leaders’ personal beliefs quietly affect their convictions, and judge them by their actions more than their affiliations. I like this – it gives more room for people from diverse backgrounds to truly feel like they belong.
The other thing that I have always found odd, and noticed again during yesterday’s ceremony, is the role of the First Lady. Both Michele Obama and Biden’s wife held the Bible when their husbands were sworn in. While it is true that the role of President of the United States is going to affect a person’s spouse profoundly, it still made me think of the way that churches expect pastors wives to find their own fulfillment in supporting their husband’s vocation (see my rant on this subject here ). I like our method better, where the wife of the P.M. generally does whatever she does (lawyer, full-time mother, hippie/debutante), and while it’s probably not good form to get drunk with the Rolling Stones, she is more or less left alone.
I feel like Obama is going to be a defining voice in our generation, and I will be watching him from up here in the North, but as much as I would love to have a leader whose speeches make me cry (ahem . . . in the good way . . .) I would not trade our pomp-free ways for all the inaugural balls in the world.