US President Barack Obama was inaugurated this week. President of the USA is an unusual job. There are not many jobs where they throw you a really big party on your first day. I guess it makes sense for Presidents, as the first day usually represents the height of their popularity, at least whilst in office. I wonder, does he get paid to attend the party? I imagine he did, or maybe he only clocks on after he makes the oath. Obama probably enjoyed the party, but if he has any sense he should fear his popularity too. The expectations of Obama’s supporters go beyond sky high. They left orbit a while ago and, when last sighted, were half way to Jupiter. I almost feel sorry for the new ‘leader of the free world’ (whatever that means). He will have to go down in history as the greatest ever President, if the trajectory of his delivery is to match the giddy heights of the hopes he has raised.
Next time you’re found, with your chin on the ground
There’s a lot to be learned, so look around
I did not want to write about Obama this week. I was going to wait until the end of his first one hundred days, once he had the chance to actually do something. The US is taking an economic beating. That followed the sucker punches of Iraq and Afghanistan. The collective American chin has hit the canvas. The US deserves at least an eight count before we expect it to get back on its feet. Obama needs time to do his job. However, whilst I would like to let him be, the intensity of media coverage means he is not letting me be. Obama the pop star is all over the place. He dances, people sing to him. People bought lottery tickets in the hope of attending his inauguration and hear him make some speech. If you make a donation at his website, you can get an Obama t-shirt in return. The world of celebrity and politics is getting so similar, I half expect Bono to join the President’s staff. No, I do not want to write about Obama. But like a gadfly, Obama keeps demanding my attention, whether I want to give it or not.
I cannot escape Obama at present, and I do not even live in the US. I live in Britain. Often I feel that Brits go too far in their criticism of Americans. There is a class of Brit that believes they are superior, and look down on their American kin like they are the hyperactive grandkids to Britain’s worldly-wise grandparents. To this segment of British society, Americans are too easily excited, too optimistic, and too willing to let themselves get carried away. To my mind, Brits could learn a lot from American enthusiasm. The American’s pursuit of dreams often carries them much further than a Brit dares imagine possible. Usually I think that. But this week I do not. This week, my ears are ringing with the words of hope. This week, I will not be looking across the ocean to learn from Americans. Even the Brits around me seem to be infected with the same irrational exuberance. This week I am putting my fingers in my ears because all this hope is not teaching me anything. There is enough hope already. Hope is good, but good news is better. I want to hear some news about Obama, and not just that he is the first black President, like being black or being President, or being a combination of the two, should be a cause for celebration in itself.
Just what makes that little old ant
Think heâ€™ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, canâ€™t
Move a rubber tree plant
Obama has some big jobs to do. But he is one man, in the final reckoning. He is a human being. He is the 44th in a line of human beings that includes Washington and Lincoln and FDR and JFK and Ronnie Reagan and Bill Clinton and a couple of Bushes. He is not that different to any of them. Brain. Two arms, two legs. Mouth. Speaks English. Okay, he is way ahead of the 43rd President on that last score, but most of the rest of them were able to talk coherently. He may be a President, but he is not that different to you or me. He has no special God-given gifts or superpowers. He talks, he listens, he thinks, he makes decisions. Some he will get right, some he will get wrong, and that is an end of it. He is an ant in the great hive of humans that infest this lump of rock. Maybe he is a bigger ant than you or me, but an ant all the same. Whatever his hopes and accomplishments, there is nothing he can do that could not be done by somebody else, and nothing he can do as a leader that does not depend on the consent of many others.
Obama’s greatest accomplishment so far, as infernally repeated in every news story, is that he won the election and he is black and that is novel. Forgive me, but I do not find that to be a special accomplishment, compared to the other 43 people in the Presidential line-up. Prejudice cannot be measured on the scale of a single man. Everybody encounters prejudice in this world. Some encounter more, some encounter less. Some prejudices are common, others are not. Some are easy to categorize, others are not. Some are easy to describe, others are not. Everybody could complain about prejudice. Beautiful women complain about not being taken seriously. Young people are ignored. Old people are disregarded. Some people have the wrong accent. Some people went to the wrong school. White middle class men are branded as white middle class men – and hence damned for being the supposed oppressors of everyone else. There are probably people with irrational prejudices against anyone with a long nose, or against anyone who grows a beard, or against anyone less than five foot tall, or against anyone who folds their arms left over right instead of right over left. Abraham Lincoln probably suffered prejudice because he was pig ugly. I am sorry for the people who have the prejudices, and I am sorry for the people who suffer the prejudices. If Barack Obama encountered some prejudice in this world because he had a black father, then I am sorry for that, but that does not mean his accomplishments are automatically greater because of it. I do not know about all the prejudices, all the obstacles, all the trials and tribulations of Obama, and not do I know about them for the other candidates for his high office. Less still do I know about the prejudices faced by all the people who might have, would have, should have, could have been President if only the world worked out differently. What if Obama had been killed in a car accident whilst a teenager? What if some teenager killed in an accident had not? Our fates, whether President or a porter, are determined by a myriad of factors. Our appearance is only one of those factors. There is no divine destiny that made Obama President. If you think elections are determined by a deity, you might as well stay at home and not cast your vote. No, men and women picked Obama to be President. They made a choice, using their human faculties. They, like many others, made a decision, and that helped shape Obama’s life like his decisions will shape ours. I cannot objectively measure the good luck, bad luck, advantages and prejudices that were heaped on to the scales of Barack Obama’s fortunes, and I am not sure if anyone can. I cannot truly measure Obama’s burdens against those of his peers and rivals. None can compare Obama’s achievements to the achievements of all the people on this Earth. There are people today who will struggle hard just to live until tomorrow. It is not for me to say their struggle was more or less noble than Obama’s ambition to be President. What we do know is that Obama won a popularity contest. He is black and he won a popularity contest. Good for him that he won the contest, and I do not care if he is black. Please, will everybody stop mentioning he is black. I promise not mention it again if everybody else does the same. I simply do not care. Obama’s blackness is, in the most important sense, unimportant to his being the President. If I keep hearing about him being black, I am going to put my fingers in my ears. That would be a shame, as I would like to hear what he is going to do.
Do ants care about the way they look as much as humans seem to do? I suffer from the affliction of being colour-blind. I can tell red from green and blue from yellow. I just cannot tell the difference between a black person and a white person and a brown person and a yellow person. At least, I cannot tell the difference in any way I find to be remotely interesting. Because other people think there are important differences, that does not mean I have to respect their point of view. Obama looks a little different from the other Presidents. For example, his ears stick out. But I do not find Obama’s exterior to be the least bit interesting, whether it is the tone of his skin or the spots on his bum. In a similar way, I am gender-blind, and disability-blind, and religion-blind and pretty much blind to anything or everything that has nothing to do with how good a person is or how their mind works or how good they are at the things that they do. If I had a hope, it would be that everybody was colour-blind. But reading about Obama being black, and hearing about Obama being black, and generally getting bored of the fact that Obama is black, I find it obvious that plenty of people are a long, long way from being colour-blind. Seeing colour as something interesting is like being a six year old and having a favourite colour of crayon. The colour of skin is trivial. It is a trivial cause for celebration. It is a trivial basis for two people to consider themselves as having something in common. It is a trivial reason to dislike somebody. It is a trivial way to judge somebody’s worth. It is trivial, and there are no two ways about it. Colour is unimportant. If colour is unimportant, you prove that by treating it as unimportant, not by treating it as important-but-only-because-other-people-make-it-important. White good, black bad, black good, white bad… all nonsense, all trivial. Time to move on. Obama, a half-black guy, won the most important election in the world. Time to move on. Time for Obama to be a President, not just somebody with a few black genes in his genetic makeup. Obama was born with a skin and it had a colour. That did not take any effort on his part. His mother made most of the effort on the day Obama was born (not that any mother has joined the 44). He was born, and the other six billion people on the planet can attest there is nothing so special about that. Now comes the special part. Now comes the effort. Now we see what he is made of.
The victory of colourblindness, as manifest in his election victory, is a good thing, but it is the victory of normalcy in eternal human values, after a terrible and prolonged aberration. I doubt cavemen cared so much about appearances, and we should not either. There has been enough talk about appearances. Now, Obama needs to get on with being President, and we need to let him get on with that. We must file all this tedious nonsense about his colour in an historical archive for people who care about trivial things. File it under ‘B’ for ‘Boring’, not ‘B’ for ‘Black’. I am hoping the inauguration is the final full stop on this silly repetition of the same superficial non-story. Was there really anybody, anywhere on the planet, listening to the news this week, that learned something new when it was repeated, yet again, that Obama is black and that is unusual for an American President? If they do not know now, they never will, so let us move on anyway. New. News. Please.
But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes
For the moment, I have stopped believing that the US President is called Barack Obama. As far as I am concerned, he is Bore-ama. I am bored of him. That must be some kind of record, to be bored of a US President before he completed his first day in office. He has all the potential to be the most exciting President ever, but right now, he is Boreama. Maybe I spent too long following the campaign. Maybe I listened to too many of his speeches. Maybe he would be more exciting if I only noticed politics a week or so before an election takes place. Unfortunately, I did not. I noticed him when everyone else noticed him – when he seemed to have a reasonable chance of winning the Democrat nomination. Since then, he has been on parole. Every move has been scrutinized. He has rarely put a foot wrong, but he has not done very much that is interesting, either. He has been safe, steady, dull. People get very excited about him. They do odd things, like going to stadiums to hear him say things that could just hear him say on television. They are already planning to tell their great grandchildren about how they listened to Obama in person. Presumably they will not be so keen to tell the story if he turns out to be a stinker of a President. He is President Boreama, at least for now. As far as I am concerned, he will win his reprieve from Boreamadom if he does half of the things he hopes to. Good luck to him. He will need all the luck and help he can get if those hopes are to be realized.
Okay, so Boreama has now made a few phone calls to the Middle East, and he asked the judges to put Guantanamo Bay on hold. That is a reasonable start, but nothing too exciting yet. It would have been odd not to call the Middle East. It is just polite to remind them that there is a new guy wielding the biggest stick in the world. It only makes sense for the new guy to say how lovely it would be if they could all play nice and find a way to stop killing each other and stop moving us closer and closer to World War III. As for Guantanamo, even McCain wanted to end that stain on America’s legal bedsheets. Obama also wants to spend some money revitalizing the economy. He is hardly alone in having identified that as a plan. Anybody with a cursory understanding of the Great Depression would realize they tried the do-nothing plan and it did not work out so well, so then they tried the spend-lots plan and that worked out better. Even Bush was happy to spend money the government did not have, though you could argue he was working hard to make the government bankrupt long before the financial crisis struck. The interesting decision is not the decision to spend money. The interesting decision is deciding what to spend it on. If you gave me 800 billion dollars, to spend as I like, I would stimulate the economy of the US, and plenty of other places too. The question is whether Obama spends the money as effectively as possible. Can this ant turn the tide of economic history? Or will he spend a fortune and end up with an ant-sized economy?
So any time you’re gettin’ low
‘stead of lettin’ go
Just remember that ant
Oops there goes another rubber tree plant
Bore-ama. I did not listen to his inauguration speech. I was expecting it to be boring. I was expecting he would say nothing new. Then it got reported everywhere, and mindful as I am of journalistic bias, I found myself having to listen to it anyway. First I read it. When you read it, it is pretty short. Obama is such an orator. His masterful pauses and elegant turning of phrases can transform two minutes’ worth of sketchy ideas into twenty minutes of uplifting, sketchy ideas. So first I read it, then I listened to it, not listening to the words, but to the inflections, to the tones, to the stagemanship in his voice. It was impressive. He is very good at delivering a speech. He makes it sound good. In another world, he would have made a fine presenter of the weather news. I wonder if he could make a recipe or a shopping list sound exciting. I can just imagine what he was like when he was a student, telling his peers about his trip to the store…
“My fellow citizens, colleagues, and friends, you ask if I have purchased the potatoes for tonight’s supper. I can tell you that I went to the grocery store, and I searched for the potatoes. I looked up one aisle, and down another aisle. I looked long, and I looked hard. But there were no potatoes that were fit for our good, honest, simple table. There were no potatoes fit to sustain our daily endeavours. There were no potatoes fit to nourish the flesh, the blood, the souls of we tireless workers gathered in this kitchen today. There were no good potatoes. There were only bad potatoes, old potatoes and potatoes that had gone slightly mouldy. These were not the potatoes that sustained our peoples when they came to this land from the corners of the world. These were not the potatoes that our grandparents pulled form the earth, the reward for their toil. We need a renewal of our vegetable visions for the future. We need to broaden our search for good grocery stores, as we renew and broaden the hopes of our generation. Whether we worked today at a part-time job in the local pharmacy, studied our books diligently, helped old ladies to cross the street, or went to the grocery store to buy potatoes, we have worked hard today and we have much hard work yet to do. We need nourishment for our body, and for our souls. We can do it, we can get there, not with the potatoes, but with the half pound of broccoli I bought instead. Can we make a wholesome, good and palatable meal with this broccoli? Yes, we can.”
But the words of his inauguration speech, when read on paper, I found to be dull and lifeless. Boring. Boring ideas from a 21st Century popularity contest winner, President Boreama.
When troubles call, and your back’s to the wall
There’s a lot to be learned, that wall could fall
I’m not sure it is possible for anyone to have a rational debate about Obama any more. He won, so there is no point debating whether he was the best candidate. He has not done anything yet, so you cannot debate his record. So many people have already formed an emotional attachment to Boreama – some terrifyingly sentimental need for him – that there is no point trying to be rational with them. You had soon as well bang your head against the wall, as suggest that people might temper their expectations of Obama, and go easy with their hopes for his Presidency. But then, he never does. In his inauguration, he promised to do it all: outlive his enemies, end nuclear war, feed the world’s hungry, make the waters flow, save the planet… the list went on and on. Every great promise was in there, short of a cure for cancer and a guaranteed method to lose weight fast. He was so good at making impossible promises I wondered if the banking industry would have employed him to sell mortgages. Every one of Boreama’s promises were presented in glorious technicolour, glorious widescreen, and glorious low-definition soft focus. Obama, on a cold day in Washington D.C., wrapped himself within his misty-eyed gift for words. Those words paint pictures of places that, so far, only exist in our imagination.
Once there was a silly old ram
Thought he’d punch a hole in a dam
No one could make that ram scram
He kept buttin’ that dam
I have this terrible jaded feeling about Boreama. To be fair to him, it is not his fault especially, although he keeps riding the crest of the wave created by the people who are to blame. It is a product of a ridiculous insistence that here, and now, is always the most amazing moment, the most amazing place in history. How silly. Some people must live in boring times. We live in boring times, on a relative scale. It is so boring, that people got carried away with how good and boring it is. They borrowed heavily against the boring, predictable, safe and wonderful future, as they saw it. Risk? There was no risk. Why worry about risk, when the future is so boring and safe and predictable, they thought. Incomeless homeowners and wealthy bankers agreed – these are boring times. Not worried about war, or disease, or pestilence, or any of the interesting things that have happened to humanity through the ages, they borrowed and borrowed and borrowed against the future. They borrowed so much they had no way to pay it all back. People borrowed money they could not pay, and lent money they did not have. Their extraordinary over-confidence backfired, and royally messed up the economy. That is the most exciting thing that has happened to most people recently. People got greedy and now they are sorry. People banged their heads against the dam, so hard, and so long, that it started to crack. That does not sound like the behaviour of people who lives in exciting times. It sounds like the behaviour of people so bored they messed up the world because they had nothing better to do.
Boreama’s exactly the right President for a boring era. He makes everything sound exciting, even when it is not. His campaign strategy was remorseless in playing it safe. There can never have been a President who encouraged so much whilst promising so little. He makes our era sound special, even when what makes it special is how mundane our era is. We live in an era where tedious, soulless material acquisition grew so quickly and grew so unchecked that we ended up puking the remnants all over the economy.
The last President who tried to make his era sound special was George W. Bush. He is not unusual, because every President wants to be the Great President who served in Important Times. Big egos inevitably go with big jobs. Bush took a different approach to making here, and now, special. Like everything else in his Presidency he was meandering along, bereft of any real ideas, and was prompted into action by a crisis made whilst his guard was down. Bush started a ‘war on terror’, and some real wars, as an absurd overreaction to a terrorist attack. The devastation of the twin towers was horrifying, but hardly a justification to the irrational response it prompted from the US government. It sickens to play a numbers game, but only 2,974 people died in the attack on the World Trade Center. Compare that to the million people who die from malaria each year. By my calculator, that is about 2,740 deaths from malaria every single day. According to the 2006 WHO report, 90% of those deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. 75% of the dead were five or younger. If you want to make the world a safer place, spending mosquito nets and drugs would give a much better return than chasing around Iraq for terrorist WMDs. Every President wants to be important. The problem is that not every President knows what is important.
If Obama is to be believed, he would have not made the mistakes of Bush’s government. He believes he has a cooler head. Maybe so, but cooler heads need to encourage other heads to keep cool too. So far, he has been happy to ride a wave of euphoria, not to dampen it. That mood is positive right now, but he is doing nothing to temper it in advance of the times when cool heads will really be needed.
’cause he had high hopes, he had high hopes
He had high apple pie, in the sky hopes
Obama’s mother must have been an optimist. She raised him. She must have passed on her values. She traveled the world, worked hard, and did the job of a mother too. However, she was not mentioned in her son’s inauguration speech. Obama’s father was mentioned, twice. It makes me feel like she is gently sidelined by Obama. Obama’s self-image seems to hinge on his black, absent, father, not his white, present, mother. Talk of Obama’s father smells of political expediency. We hear about a black African overcoming hurdles, but not about the hurdles overcome by his White, American mother. Perhaps she does not fit so conveniently into the stereotypes that Obama wishes to trade in, the personal mythology he seeks to create for himself. Obama’s face is a lot like his mother’s. That is not the aspect of his looks that Obama dwells upon. He would rather dwell on colour, what made him different from his mother, not what made him the same.
So any time your feelinâ€™ bad
â€™stead of feelinâ€™ sad
Just remember that ram
Oops there goes a billion kilowatt dam
The devil is in the details. Destroying a billion kilowatt dam sounds like a mighty achievement, of sorts, but the ram must have got a mighty headache first. From Obama, I am hoping to see grit and a capacity to deal with the world’s problems hands-on. The oratory and the inspiration can take a back seat. There is no need for inspiration if there is no direction. The Obama program has ruthlessly demonstrated its ability to inspire. It inspired plenty to go to the polling booths. If Obama has a genius for politics, he needs to remember the famous quote from Edison, the great American inventor and entrepreneur: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” It is time for Obama to start sweating.
The last Democrat glamour-puss President was JFK. He raised high hopes too. Hopes were so high, that Frank Sinatra sang a special version of his 1959 hit “High Hopes” when campaigning for him. In the modified lyrics, Sinatra sang “Jack’s the nations favourite guy” and “vote for Kennedy, keep America strong.” When I was young, the aura of JFK led me to believe Kennedy was a great President. Then I learned something about history and realized he was a spoilt rich-kid who screwed around, caused crisis after crisis over Cuba, and was hailed a hero just because none of his crises lead to a nuclear war. Oh, and he sanctioned the overthrow of the South Vietnamese government and the installation of more American troops in that country – and we all know how US interference in Vietnam worked out in the end. Kennedy also raised Frank Sinatra’s hopes. Sinatra, with his Rat Pack buddy Peter Lawford, organized Kennedy’s inaugural gala. It was a star-studded affair. The next year, Sinatra spent a lot of money on building accommodation for Kennedy and his entourage for a highly anticipated and heavily publicized visit to the West Coast. Sinatra’s seedy connections were just fine when Kennedy wanted to get laid, or to help win votes in Illinois, but caused Kennedy to snub Sinatra and stay at Bing Crosby’s house instead. Bing Crosby was not just Sinatra’s singing rival, he was a supporter of the Republican Party. Sinatra was bitter about that for a long time after, and ended up becoming a Republican supporter as well. In 1980, Sinatra donated US$4 million to Reagan’s Presidential campaign. When Reagan won, Sinatra arranged his Presidential gala too. Given the high hopes raised by, and the disappointing reality of JFK’s Presidency, Boreama should be careful to learn from history, and to avoid letting too many people down.
Yes we can, yes we did, yes we will, yes, yes sir, yessur, yessum’ boss. The word ‘yes’. You can say ‘yes’ to terrible things. You can do terrible things. These positive disembodied words, words that hang in the air but stubbornly refuse to describe any real actions. Verbs are a problem with Obama. Can what? Did what? Do what?
Bore-ama. I’m bored of Boreama already. We need less talk. More action.
What kind of action is Boreama offering? You would hope his inauguration speech would give some clues. The thing with Obama is that he’s a regular Stalin or Castro when it comes to speeches. He wants everybody to be listening to him, as he gives out the answers. He want you to know, that he has the answers. He does not want to sound immodest, but nobody should walk away with doubt. Obama has the answers. That means we have the answers. Boreama just tells us the answers that we knew he knew we knew all along.
“For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.”
The words are so beautifully and simply worded, so intellectually confused. Who is doing this work? “We”. Then why do “we” need to be reminded to do it? Did we do before? If we did, did we stop? Why did we stop? If we never stopped, then what is new?
It is easy to pick apart a speech like this, but that does not mean it is not worth picking it apart. How many of Boreama’s supporters, so eager to attend the inauguration, remembering to hold the new President to account right from his very first words in office, remembering to play their part in the democratic process of holding this new government to account?
Obama plays a nice line in nostalgia. There was always a wonderful past, and recent events are just a blip in the natural procession of American history. This is American history presented as destiny, with progress always onwards and upwards, for the good of Americans and the world. What tosh. What cynical rewriting of history this is. Obama should take a look at American governments through history. They were small. They did little, taxed little, interfered little. Either Boreama likes them for those virtues, or he does not. He is an historical pickpocket, if he steals what he likes from American history but ignores the things he does not like.
I want less “we” and more “me” and “you”. I am not “we”, I am me. A leader needs to talk to individuals and tell them what he wants from them as individuals. Tell a group to do something, and nobody does it. Tell a person to do something, and you have a chance they will do it. Enough of generality, Boreama needs to start dealing with specifics, starting with specific people, starting with himself.
“Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.” Now “we” are leading, or they are leading, or he is leading, I am not sure which. I want to hear what he wants and expects other people to do. Less of the “we”. Break this great, mighty job down. The abusers at Abu Ghraib were Americans. Were they friends to Iraqis? Obama is a friend to every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity? What if they want peace and dignity, but are not so keen on American leadership? What if they did not vote for Obama, and find it repellent that he talks of himself, or his nation (it is too vague to tell what he is saying here) as leaders, as if they were elected by the world? Obama needs to break it down into tasks and give them to individuals. Some of those tasks will be performed by the President. Some by others. But break it down.
“Their memories are short.” Whose memories are short? None shorter than Obama’s. The day before Boreama was President, the same people lived in the same country. What changed? They were free men and women, the day before. If they were not harnessing the sun and wielding technology’s wonders, why not? Was it because nobody was telling them to do so? Can nobody think of a good idea and pull their finger out and build the roads and create the jobs without waiting for Boreama? Fiddlesticks. The people were free in 2000, free in 2004, free in the years between. What were they doing with their freedom? Did George W. Bush hypnotize them? Were they enslaved by his zombie spell, unable to act, unable to do anything to help themselves? Did they have to summon their last drop of energy showing up to the voting booths in order to elect Boreama? Were they all sat around waiting like morons, waiting for Boreama to tell them “we” can do it? What was stopping them? What is Obama going to do to start them? Is he going to speech them into submission, talk at them until they do what is needed? Or is Boreama planning to do some things himself, as an individual. I hope so. Fine deeds matter more than fine words.
No matter how I try, I cannot escape Obama right now. On the radio, the BBC offered one of those imbecilic vox pop exercises about Obama, as if three carefully chosen people could ever be the voices of “the people”. The outcome was typical, one for Obama, one against Obama, one on the fence about Obama. You can always judge the journalistic slant of a vox pop by the order in which the voices are presented. The last one defines the tone of the piece. The last voice was pro-Obama. She carefully pointed out, when dealing with the journalist’s scepticism about how much Obama could really do in practice, that it was not up to Obama to do things singlehanded. She made it clear, that it was up to the “we” to do it. Yes “we” can. So what has this woman been waiting for? She has the same hands, mind, conscience, soul. What difference does Obama make to how she lives her life? Instead of talking about the difference Obama makes – using that airy language that describes a far-off landscape, I want to hear what steps people are taking, from one day to the next, to get to this promised land. Of course, the journalist did not ask this voice what she was doing to make those dreams come true, other than generally be supportive of Obama and what he says the “we” will do. Presumably asking such a question would be rude.
“Ask not what can your country do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
J.F. Kennedy, Presidential Inauguration, January 20th, 1961
Great lines from great speeches. Inspiring stuff. But what, exactly, does it inspire. Hope? Is that a substitute for action? Is that the same kind of hope you get at church: life is terrible now, but there is no point complaining, as it will all come good in the end? Just do as you are told and God will sort out the rest? I am not one for waiting for God, or leaders, or the “we” to sort things out. From my experience, they never do. I prefer complaining. You may have noticed. Complaining changes the world. You cannot change from bad to better, bad to good, okay to great, without identifying what should be changed, what could be better. But complaints are no good if they are not specific. What specifically is going to change? What, specifically, are the complaints that the “we” will address?
“What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”
Obama the earthquake: he shifts the very ground beneath us. The religious parallels are obvious. He could send plagues of locusts, but he is not that kind of prophet. He is more the type to focus on parting the seas and turning water into wine, except when he does it, we does it. Obama the inspiration, who is also Obama the pragmatist, who is also Obama the answer to any question. His government will change government. Only cynics would oppose him. There will be no cynics around him. There will be no cynics who support him, use him, manipulate his popularity, his mandate, his agenda for their selfish ends. No, no, no… that cannot happen. The Reverend Boreama will not allow that to happen. “We” will not allow that to happen. He and his political allies are reborn in the new faith. They have given up their old god, the false idol of government. They have a new god, the one true god of Government! (Did you notice the change?) They were converted on the road to Damascus, or possibly on the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the road to the White House. If you cannot see the difference, it must be because you do not believe hard enough. Have faith, brother.
I need to be converted. George W missed the point when becoming an evangelical Christian. The point is not to be converted, it is to convert. Obama’s the great converter. Obama’s the real baptist of our times. Hilary Clinton, born again into the new government. Tom Daschle, born again into the new government. Joe Biden, born again into the new government. If they look the same on the outside, that is just their bodies. That is just their superficial appearance, their skins, not that Boreama cares about such things. Their souls are born again, supposedly. They are re-born to the new creed of government changed, thanks to Obama the baptist.
“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”
Ask not what the President will do for you. He asks what you will do for him. At the inauguration they should have answered the preacher, and told them what they would do. I mean, if they were not believers, committed to the cause of doing something (not sure what, but something) then who is? Then again, they may have all shouted out different answers about what the “we” would do, what tasks the “we” would undertake. That would spoil the ceremony. That would have ruined the fine words of the speech. Better shout “yes we can, yes we will, yes we did” instead, even if you are not clear on the details of what you are supposed to be doing.
“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers.” How very embracing. All different, but all “we”. All converted to the one truth, the one true path, the one true leader who will return us to the true path. “This is the source of our confidence – the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.” Got that, all you secular non-believers? There cannot be any confusion there. Even non-believers are confident in the knowledge of God’s call. With an infallible plan like that, surely the cynics have no reason to fear any prospect of division in Boreama’s America. You have to be confident in your knowledge to shape an uncertain destiny. If it is not God that calls you, although you are confident (Boreama told you so, it must be true) in your knowledge that God calls you, then Obama will help by filling in the blanks and pointing you in the right direction. If God is pointing you the other way, to hate America, to hate what it stands for, you must be listening to the wrong God. You must be listening to the God of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. If you think Obama’s wrong, and misguided, and will lead America down the wrong path, you must be listening to the wrong God. You must be listening to the God of George W. Bush. God never lets people disagree or be confused, and nor will Boreama. God is pointing the way, Obama is pointing the way – it just looks a long way off in the distance, and the path is a little confused, and we all are going in different directions, but we will get there. Yes we can.
“…Why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.” Ah yes, the perpetual glorification of the absent Obama father. Obama’s father was a remarkable man. Whilst a student, he fathered a child, and left a year later. What an ideal role model, somebody we should all seek to emulate. Obama’s mother dropped out of college to raise her son. She paid the family bills, taught her son, made her son proud of his black ancestry and his black father. Obama repaid her by writing a book about his father. The son was not there when the mother died, but the father is always there in the son’s speeches. There is no mention of Obama’s mother. Bore-ama’s dwelling on his father is justified, of course. Obama’s father suffered terrible prejudice, we can know for sure, because he was black. Not that Boreama witnessed this prejudice first hand, but we can reasonably infer it. Obama’s father might not have been served at a local restaurant. Might not. Look on the bright side. His father was probably too busy to worry about that, too busy to raise or pay for his own son. He had to leave to study for his PhD in Economics at Harvard. He needed to learn about how money turns the world around, not how to pay for his own offspring. What terrible discrimination Obama’s father probably suffered at Harvard too. What a guy. How generous of Obama, to always grieve, in so many public speeches, for the supposed sufferings of somebody he did not know. His father’s scholarship forced him to make so many sacrifices, to give up so much. His scholarship would not pay for his wife and son, so he had to leave them behind. “How can I refuse the best education?” he told his wife, when explaining his decision not to take the more generous scholarship offered him in New York, that would have allowed him to take his wife and child with him. This is the man who gets cited in a speech about inspiration, about overcoming obstacles, about how “we” can change the world, about how “we” make the world a better place. An inspiring figure, one worth recalling at every opportunity. His father, Our Father, the inspiration, from far off. Always there, always overcoming unimaginable hurdles, just not getting involved in the messy detail of real people’s lives.
“Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”
This is a gift, passed from father to son. It is in Obama’s case, this gift of oratory, this gift of being the centre of attention, this freedom to shape the world by thought and word. It is a journey, that we embark upon. In this story, the takers are eulogized, and the givers are forgotten, even by Boreama himself. But what a journey we have before us, biblical in its epic proportions, as we happily set out on the path. We are going to the promised land. Obama has painted the picture, and it is a beautiful landscape. There is no map, but we have the Obama’s watercolour landscape painting so we know what it looks like. We are all ready to go. Yes, we can do it, we can make it, we can get there. Now all we need is someone to point us in the right direction.
All problems just a toy balloon
Theyâ€™ll be bursted soon
Theyâ€™re just bound to go pop
Oops there goes another problem kerplop
High Hopes: words & music by Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen, recorded by Frank Sinatra, from the 1959 movie Hole in the Head
High hopes. High hopes. It is almost like we solved all our problems already. Can you feel the confidence all around? Great. Great!!! Nobody and nothing can stop us now. We are on the way. We will get there. We can do it. Yes we can.
So when do we begin?
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