Obama’s recent mid-term election defeat and declining popularity polls indicate that the President has fallen a few pegs from his once lauded celebrity status back home. Media pundits paint a sombre picture of the man behind almost 2 hard years of presidency: Obama weary of holding the weight of America’s problems; Obama’s shiny “Yes We Can!”exterior showing signs of cracking under rising discontent and unrelenting political opponents; Obama with gray hairs streaking his once sleek dark hair and worry lines framing that signature smile.
But Barack’s short visit to Indonesia this week cast him in an entirely different light, giving him a particular glow that’s not been seen since perhaps the inspiring beacon of change and hope that beckoned to us during the elections of 2008: Barack Obama the rock star.
Confident, charismatic and smooth, Obama towered over Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s small stature, breaking easily into smile and peppering his statements with fluent Indonesian expressions that were hits with his audience and instant media soundbites: “Sate… bakso enak ya!” (Satay and meat balls are delicious!)
With the conclusion of his trip today, Barack delivered his much-hyped speech at the University of Indonesia, where the audience of 6,500 people continuously shouted out: “We love you Barry!”and broke into raucous applause every time the former Jakarta resident made a cultural reference, such as the “bemos” (three-wheeled cars) that once traversed the roads and the “high-rise” building of Sarinah shopping center (now considered a low-rise building by modern standards).
But beyond the sprinkling of cultural references, the President focused his speech on the subject of strengthening the ties between U.S.-Muslim relations. The President praised Indonesia for its diversity, multiculturalism and tolerant stance towards religion—all factors that have been a part of the country’s democratic reforms and are the ties that can bond the two democratic states together.
As Barack is often negatively (and wrongly) portrayed as a Muslim by some political opponents in the U.S., it was refreshing to see the President speaking so forcefully about cementing ties with the largest Muslim country in the world, and being applauded for it. The President stated:
America is not and never will be at war with Islam.
As the speech was broadcast across the country, spectators everywhere took to their Twitter feeds to express their pride and approval of the one they call Indonesia’s adoptive son. One deeply impressed woman tweeted:
An hour later, the President was photographed running nimbly up the steps of Air Force One to catch his next flight to Seoul, looking cooler than ever and with some definite new pep in his step. As the President will face the plethora of issues plaguing his current leadership upon his return, let’s hope he remembers Indonesia’s warm welcome that catapulted him back to rock star status, if only for one day.