As you are already possibly aware, this is the most loved picture on the Internet ever. In about 58 hours that have passed between President Barack Obama’s office releasing this picture—with the simple caption “Four more years”—at 0945 hours IST on 7 November and my typing out these words, nearly four-and-a-half million people have “liked” it on Facebook, nearly 600,000 people have shared it, and the picture has received more than 200,000 comments (the sheer love and hope expressed in many of these comments is quite astonishing). It is also the most re-tweeted picture ever.
The photo was taken by Obama campaign photographer Scout Tufankjian at a rally in Iowa in August. In an interview to Boston magazine, she recalled that at that time, the Obamas had barely seen each other for some days, and when they met at this rally, they spontaneously hugged. Describing that moment, Tufankjian said: “It’s not just a pro forma hug at an event. I wanted to isolate them away from the crowds. I wanted a photograph of just the two of them as opposed to all of the other stuff that was going on around it. I love how much they seem to concentrate on each other.”
About the wild popularity of the image, she was candid: “I don’t kid myself that its popularity has anything to do with the composition of the image. It’s obviously entirely about the Obama family in that moment… It’s about the moment. It’s about the ‘four more years’, not about the framing of the image or the lens I decided to use. I am an accidental bystander, it’s all about how people feel about the Obamas.”
A day after his re-election, Obama made a surprise visit to his Chicago campaign headquarters and addressed the young men and women who had spent the past 18 months working for him. The speech was impromptu, and if it wasn’t straight from the heart, he is surely the greatest actor of all time. Talking about the time when he moved to Chicago at the age of 25—he knew he wanted to do something, but “I had no structure”—he said: “You guys are so much better in so many ways than I was at your age—so much smarter, better organized, more effective. And I am absolutely confident that all of you are going to do amazing things in your lives.”
And then came the moment. “I am so proud of you, all of you, and uh…” His voice broke and a tear coursed down his right cheek. He wiped it away, but more came. He stood silent for a few moments, then continued, his cheeks glistening. “You guys are just starting off,” he said. “And whatever good we do in the next four years is going to pale in comparison with what you guys are going to achieve in the years and years to come.” The young people in that hall will certainly never forget those five minutes when the US President, in his shirtsleeves, wept in gratitude to utter unknowns, when no one even expected him to drop by and speak to them.
That’s the thing about Obama. Yes, the demographic analysis of the election results can lead to pretty grim conclusions. Quite simply, 60% of all white votes went to Mitt Romney, and a massive majority of non-white votes went to Obama (Indian-Americans were a bit of an exception. They are the most affluent immigrant community, and a third of them voted for Romney. The two Indian-origin Governors in the US—Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina—are both Republicans). One can talk about a racial divide, and a cynic can confidently propose the hypothesis that Obama’s re-election had more to do with skin colour than policies or ideology. Yet, one cannot deny that Obama exudes a humanity and sincerity that is almost unmatched among the world’s political leaders of the past 50 years (In the US, certainly no president comes close, other than the ill-fated Jimmy Carter). If Bill Clinton had—and retains—the charisma of a Brad Pitt, Obama is the utterly uncharismatic but well-beloved young Tom Hanks.
People living half the planet away and who have nothing to do with him, adore Obama. Kids working in Indian call centres celebrate when he wins. And the man is against outsourcing! A BBC public opinion poll conducted in 21 countries a month before the elections found people in 20 countries wanting Obama to win. The only exception—and I refrain from any comment on this—was Pakistan. (The BBC did not poll in Iran.)
After the Iowa hug photo went viral, the US media reported that even people who had voted for Romney were sharing the picture and admitting that they were moved by the image. That is a phenomenal ability that Barack Obama has—he can touch hearts almost effortlessly with a nice-guy earnestness that shines through, an earnestness that is natural, hopeful and inclusive. And this has hardly anything to do with whether his policies and beliefs are astute or asinine. (Of course, he is also an extremely intelligent politician, and clearly had brilliant campaign managers. Of all the thousands of pictures they could have released on election night, they chose this particular image, which was three months old.)
It comes down to this. Between Obama and Romney, who would you buy a used car from? Racial divide or no racial divide, the average American, I think, voted for the man they could instinctively trust more, even though he didn’t have much to show for the four years he had already spent in the White House.
In the 67 minutes since I began writing this article, the Facebook “likes” have moved from 4,345,968 to 4,348,846, the shares from 579,725 to 579,746, and the comments risen from 209,971 to 210,003.