In an ideal world, one would be justified in cutting Obama out of this picture. Silvio Berlusconi makes a fine “First Enemy” all on his own. Unfortunately, considering the President’s own failures, as shocking as this pairing seems, he had it coming.
Despite my disappointment, whenever I hear his name, the first words that come to mind remain “Hope” and “Change.” To be associated with them – even now – is a testimony to the brilliant branding campaign that put Barack Obama in the White House. Though I was living in the UK during the 2008 elections, I was seduced by this language. I sent in my absentee ballot, voting for the Democratic Congressman from Chicago.
Moving to Italy after his inauguration, the Obama buzz was still in the air. Even in politically conservative Milan, the President’s image was placed in the windows of local shops, and hair salons, with the word “Change” almost always accompanying it. I also recall Berlusconi’s racial slurs upon meeting Obama for the first time, and laughing at how Michelle dissed him by extending her hand, rather than receiving Il Cavaliere’s traditional European kiss of greeting. Rock on, Michelle! We still love you.
Two years later, now in Turin, where I encountered this anti-Obama mural, I find myself conflicted. As the iconic X-Files poster above Agent Mulder’s desk said; “I want to believe” but can’t anymore. Not when I’ve seen how Obama panders to Wall Street, going so far as to add ex-Goldman Sachs executives to his administration. There’s nothing “hopeful” about that. Forget “change.”
I like to think Obama wanted to do better. Sure, the Republicans have disabled him from doing anything but executing their policies. Nonetheless, his ties to America’s financial community are separate, and would exist independently of GOP pressure. Watching coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests this weekend, I could not help but feel as though Obama was never really my president. What I voted for is what I was told Obama stood for. Not the banking interests he represents as President.
So, let the former Senator be identified with Berlusconi, and absorb the wrath of foreign street artists. Obama deserves it, even if he is not guilty of the same kinds of transgressions against Americans as Silvio Berlusconi is held responsible for by Italians. I imagine that one day, long after both men are out of office, they will cross paths vacationing in Sardigna, and joke about each other’s tans. I can’t imagine a better way they could avoid discussing the damage they did to their countries.
Photograph by Joel Schalit