Obama as Superman

I expect more of Fareed Zakaria and Newsweek. It's bad enough that, in this week's absurd magazine feature about the 50 most powerful people in the world, the normally level-headed Zakaria implies that Barack Obama is "intensely charismatic" which supposedly set him apart from ordinary people and endows him with supernatural or superhuman qualities. But then Zakaria, who self-evidently has been overdosing on Superman comics, makes the truly ludicrous assertion that Obama's political fate rests on him saving capitalism:

For Obama to be remembered as a great president, he has to do nothing less than rescue capitalism.

Nothing is further from the truth. It's not global capitalism (whatever that means) that needs rescuing, but America itself. For Obama to be a great president, a true Superman, he needs to risk unpopularity by telling Americans unpleasant truths about itself. He needs to raise taxes on gas, restore pride in public service, fundamentally restructure Wall St and Detroit without catering to the mob that is baying for the blood of the elite, most of all he needs to restore the balance between rights and responsibilities in American democracy.

It's hardly surprising that this week's Newsweek ranks Obama as the most powerful person in the world. But as the magazine's Jon Meacham observes:

Power in America and elsewhere is undergoing directional changes.... Yes, there are still culturalarbiters, and yes, presidents and lawmakers and executives obviously exert enormous influence. It is arguable, though, that technology has given us a more democratic culture (if not politics) than the world has seen since perhaps the founding of Athenian democracy. In ways that we are still only beginning to understand, the Internet is changing how power is accumulated and exercised.

If Meacham is right and we do indeed have a more democratic culture since ancient Athens, then how does the election of Zakaria's supernatural and superhuman Obama square with the democratizing impact of technology on politics? Perhaps Obama will discover the electronic plebiscite -- the classic tool of charismatics seeking to rule in the name of people. And maybe Obama's plebiscitory democracy will, in the first 100 days of his administration, save not only global capitalism and the global ecosystem, but also solve world hunger and disease.