Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A New Era??

So, the razzle dazzle and the hoopla is over, some are masking their disappointment over The Inaugural Speech while others celebrate its steady, focused approach, and for the first time since 1993, we have a president that the world actually seems to like. And for the first time ever in my lifetime, I see a president I really admire.

My first president was Lyndon B Johnson, but I can't really say I remember him, let alone admired or despised him.

Next up came Tricky Dicky... we all remember how that ended.

Oh, yes, then there was Gerald Ford, who just kept falling over. Followed by Jimmy Carter. Since he has left the Presidency, Carter has grown as a statesman (although I am aware that there are those who loathe and detest him), but as POTUS, I cannot say he impressed. There was the Iran hostage crisis and that unfortunate picture of him deyhdrated and faint as he tried to run in a Washington race.

Reagan was the president of my student days and no, I did not think he was remotely admirable. Even though the Evil Empire crumbled on his watch, that was due more to economic and political movement within the USSR than pressure from the US Administration.

Bush Sr - hmmm. Well, he didn't have Alzheimer's. But he was lacklustre. There was cronyism, there was the slippery slope to dishing out contracts to pals for wars that hadn't been declared just hanging about in the atmosphere. There was a failure to make the most of opportunities and there was economic gloom.

Then came Clinton, and while I respect his intelligence and appreciate his act, admiration is not something I can quite feel for someone who was so heavily compromised both before and while in office by the air of sleaze that surrounded his dealings - almost certainly within the letter of the law, but I always have an image of Hill and Bill like jackals circling their next carcass. And the whole Monica business did bring the White House into disrepute. Although I think he governed creditably enough, the good stuff that happened economically in Clinton's era was more a lucky break than an intended outcome. He also set up some of the deregulation that has landed us in the current fiscal castastrophe. At the end of his eight years, I had a sense of disappointment that was immeasurably deepened by the defeat of Al Gore by Bush and the GOP party machinery.

While Bush Jr was a gift to the satirists, I find myself wishing he had not been quite so easy a target with his malapropisms (terriers and bariffs...), his gaucherie (Yo Blair!), his blithe insouciance in the face of suffering - proudly showing off the latest green gadgets on his Crawfordsville ranch as New Orleans disintegrated. Admirable...I don't think so.

So what is it about Obama that makes me admire him? Number one, he's 'fessed up to his mistakes in print, in two books which he himself has written.

Then there is his sheer intelligence. Apart from the numerous endorsements of his professors and colleagues, the media coverage has shown time and time again, a man who is not afraid to think before opening his trap. He likes thinking, he has run the bid for the presidency with a startling competence and while of course running a country is different, he is a man who seems to be able to manage others, while engendering loyalty and encomia of great fulsomeness.

Secondly, he is his own man. He looks at a situation and does what he thinks is right. Like the dinner for John McCain. He is doing his best to create a bi-partisan government focused on rebuilding a country trashed by its leaders. Because currently the US does look like a frat-house on a Sunday afternoon. There's garbage strewn everywhere, ripped sofa cushions, stained upholstery, someone did spew in the corner, there's the scent of rancid alcohol and stale smoke, and the semi-conscious corpses of the kids who couldn't handle the stairs unbecomingly slumped like rag-dolls across the floor. The Cheneys, the Madoffs, the Fulds, they've had their fun, and pissed on the American and quite a few other people while they were at it.

But another admirable thing about Barack Obama is that he also likes a joke and some fun, he enjoys dancing with his wife, cuddling his kids and talking to his friends. Where Dubya continues to seem like a bizarre puppet,maybe what Pinocchio did when he grew up, Obama seems like a real person, and now that all the razzmatazz is done, he will roll up his sleeves, sit down to read, think, discuss and debate with the exceptional minds he has appointed to help him, and work out both short and long-term options. When he makes decisions, he will have the humility and common sense to explain them, and he will also be able to remind us all that he is not Superman or Iron Man, he is just another human, and that he may make the wrong decision, or the unpopular decision.

The papers in the UK have been full of the usual British caveat-construction, but you know, I looked at Obama a while ago, and I don't expect miracles. But what I think the Americans have managed is to appoint someone compassionate and sensible who will explore what he can deliver rather than promising the moon, and then he will deliver, explaining it to us all in coherent, structured and elegant language that encourages us to strive for the heights instead of allowing us to wallow in complacency or incompetence.

Sarah Palin attacked Obama for being a man of words - but without words, we are no more than posturing apes. Obama makes us more than that, and perhaps that celebration of the word, of language and of soaring and searing rhetoric, speeches that put us on the spot as much as the expectation of them puts him on the spot, is the gift for which I admire him the most.

So, yes, a new era, an era of eloquence and damned hard slog. Somehow, it seems like an improvement on the era of obfuscation, lies and misunderestimation that has now passed.

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