I’ll really miss Obama
For people who’ve known me on Facebook and the like for the past 8 or 9 years, it’s no secret that I’ve always been, and remain, a big fan of the one truly outstanding and inspiring political leader of my life time: President Barack Obama.
And as we look forward to a transatlantic axis run for the foreseeable by, in all likelihood, Hillary Clinton and David Cameron (or, worst case scenario: Boris Johnson and Ted Cruz / Donald Trump –delete as appropriate, they’re equally as terrifying), I think I’m vindicated in feeling really sad that Obama’s time is coming to an end.
I know he’s had mis-steps. I know he’s been disappointing in some ways to people.
But I think the world will really miss him when he’s gone too.
For me it started in 2004 with the Bush / Kerry election. Like most people outside the states, I was horrified as a mere slip of a lad in my mid 20s at what was happening in the world, due to the US / UK axis foreign policy. I was terrified by 9/11 and the threat of terrorism, but equally terrified by how knuckle-headed and bombastic we were being in response: rightly as it turned out.
And as we all in some way look to America’s “power of example”, I was really disappointed by what was happening internally in the States during the Bush 2.0 years.
So I followed the US 2004 election really closely. And as much as I thought John Kerry was, I guess, a kind of OK-ish Democratic candidate, it’s clear looking back that he had what can only be described as a bit of the Ed Miliband about him: clearly a decent guy, some interesting policies, and would’ve been a huge improvement on the abysmal incumbent. But entirely compromised by his desire to be all things to all people, and, to be honest, difficult to imagine as the Leader of the Free World.
So the sadly inevitably happened and the world was subjected to another four years of the Bush administration. We grew sad, angry and weary together.
That was until I watched Obama’s announcement that he was going to run for President in 2007 (I must admit I never saw his 2004 Democratic Convention speech prior to that) and I was pretty well hooked on the 2008 Democratic Primary contest after that.
His approach to the campaign was so far in advance, so much more positive, so much more organised, so much more detailed, and just generally better than Hillary’s that I was really happy when he got the nomination.
And on election night itself (an evening that I spent earlier on watching Liverpool play Athletico Madrid in the Champions League at Anfield *wistful stare into the middle distance*) I stayed up til 5am, watching the States come in and following it on the new social networking / “micro-blogging” platform “Twitter”. I think I may have even shared a couple of links on digg.com as well… The winning speech in Chicago was a genuinely beautiful moment.
I was entirely swept up in the global euphoria that followed. Full on. Hook, line and sinker. Really, genuinely pathetic, fan-boy status.
In fact, I’ve still got the newspapers from the day after the election and the inauguration (an afternoon I took off work to go home and watch).
Then the following years came and went, as I kept a close eye on things from afar.
So yes he had some policy victories, and some defeats. Some international successes and some failures.
You can argue all day long about the success or otherwise of his various policy issues, and I’m sure we’ll maybe do that in the comments section on Facebook.
But these aren’t, to me, what has made him an outstanding figure, and a good (I’d argue Great) President.
No. There are lots of reasons why I think, whoever ends up in the While House, we’ll miss him, and his example:
He didn’t whinge
This is something that drives me mad about all politicians at the moment. “This is Project Fear!”, “The Mainstream Media Establishment are rattled!”, “This is a disgraceful / shocking / shameful slur!”, “The BBC is showing its right / left wing bias again!”
There’s a cacophony of whinging among politicians and their Facebook-based support about the media coverage they’re getting these days. Everyone’s biased against them or “misrepresenting their views”. And it’s “shameful”, “shocking”, “disgusting”, [add in your own hyperbolic whinge here].
As this article helpfully points out, in politics: “if you’re whinging, you’re losing”.
Obama had the ability to rise above all this, and even during the 2008 election campaign, made a virtue of not getting rattled by it. The shoulder-wipe (1:50 in) he did when Hillary’s campaign was spreading muck about him, the “lipstick on a pig” bullshit the Republicans tried to pin on him, the best political speech of the decade in the wake of the Jeremiah White “Gooddamn America” thing.
He just got on with it with dignity and silenced his critics by performing well as a politician, being on top of the details, and (and this helps) being right most of the time.
There’s a lot to be learned for everyone in politics here.
He was genuinely funny
His performances at the White House Correspondents’ dinners were great. Yes he probably had access to the most expensive comedy writers in the business. But his delivery was always brilliant.
The roasting he gave Donald Trump in 2011 is still one of my most favourite YouTube moments of the last decade.
It’s just very hard to imagine any of the current generation giving us such moments.
I just don’t buy that whole “Boris Johnson #lad #legend” schtick.
And as for David Cameron’s attempts at comedy. Jesus H Christ. Kill me now….
But it’s not just the scripted stuff. Some of his off-the-cuff comments and comebacks, like the “I know cos I won both of them” line at his last SOTU address, was priceless.
The fact that we’ll no longer have a witty President that actually knows how to get a laugh is a source of genuine sadness for me.
It probably shouldn’t be. But it is…
He believed in compromise
This is something I’ll be really sad to see go when Obama leaves.
Compromise is a dirty word in politics these days, and it gets more depressing by the day.
According to Facebook, in Britain at least, if you’re not fully, 100% unambiguously signed up to one cause, you’re open to being capslocked to death and accused of being (and I quote) variously as:
“a politically correct do-gooder.”
“complicit in the cultural genocide of indigenous Europe.”
“a terrorist sympathiser”
“a Britain hater”
And just so you don’t think I’m being unfair to the Right. The Left are just as childish.
I give you:
“Red Tory scum”
“Neo-liberal, Zionist filth”
And my current favourite: “Establishment shill!”
I think most adults recognise that compromise is pretty much essential in a democracy to get anything done. It’s messy, difficult, and at times means you have to bend your principles. No one likes doing that.
But not doing because doing so is against the rules of whatever political gang you’re in is just pure intellectual laziness: and the upshot is that people in America go without adequate healthcare coverage and die waiting; innocent people in shops and schools are being killed by people able to buy semi-automatic firearms without background checks; and communities in Britain die slow industrial decline-related deaths because of ideological intransigence on both sides of the debate.
It’s tragic. And Obama has demonstrated that, however hard it is to get there, you sometimes have to put your convenient ideological comfort blankets aside to do the right thing for people — even if that is in small incremental changes.
Those in the States who were shouting and calling each other names during the Obamacare debates are destined to remain on the wrong side of history for perpetuity. People who are now able to afford their own cancer treatment, who would have died previously, don’t care about rigid ideology. Their lives are better, more secure and healthier because of political compromise. Yes Obamacare is an imperfect solution (one a million miles away from the NHS), but it’s a start, and millions of people benefit.
This is what we should all remember in future.
He treated the world like adults
We all know, when it came to the rhetorical flourish, there was no-one better than Obama.
He was very persuasive, but always honest that are no easy answers in politics. This is another thing that disturbs me about the way politics is discussed these days.
We, as voters, act like needy children half the time. We want politicians to just fix things. We want them to “do something”, and ideally “something” that nice and neatly backs up our own ideological position. And the problem is that politicians are only too happy to oblige with vague platitudes and unrealistic promises e.g. the Brexit campaign, Donald Trump, to some extent the Sanders campaign.
I really like the answer he gave at a press conference, when a journalist asked him about “Why did it take you so long to come out and express outrage?” about an incident. His response: “It took me a while, because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”
A very human, response that says: I’m not going to treat you like children, and just give you an uninformed soundbite. You’re going to have to wait until I have the facts to form an intelligent judgement. At this point, I will tell you my opinion.
Again, I so wish other politicians would do us the honour of treating us like adults. Who know, we might start behaving like adults in return.
And I really am not sure where this is going to come from in the current Presidential candidates.
This, again, makes me sad.
He’s been Leader of the Free World in the most significant chapter of my life
The Obama-era has been the backdrop of my 30s: easily the biggest and happiest decade of my life.
When the 2008 election cycle started, I was single, living alone in my flat. As his time is coming to an end, I’m married, with a son, a cat and a dog, and living in an actual HOUSE.
(Liverpool have barely featured in the Champions League since then mind you, but that’s another story)
I guess I’ll just always look back on this period of my life fondly. It’s been a time of great personal happiness and, dare I say, achievement. And I’ve enjoyed following the fortunes of a politician I actually admire (probably the ONLY mainstream politician I’ve ever actively admired) as it’s gone along.
It feels like the twilight of an era.
So what of the future?
Well I’m watching the 2016 Primaries closely, and feeling a bit depressed.
Let’s look at the options:
Trump — a terrifying idiot
Cruz — a terrifying religious gun nut
Sanders — creating understandable enthusiasm, but very hazy on the details
Clinton — probably the most qualified, and sure having a female President would be a good thing, but (as with the John Kerry / Ed Miliband comparison), does she have a bit of the Gordon Brown about her?
We’ll see I guess.
The reason I’m writing this is because I’ve been thinking it for a while. But also because I’ve just finished watching “Inside Obama’s White House” on BBC2. Which is an example of either “the left wing BBC ramming cultural Marxism down our throats” or “the typical BBC pushing the neoliberal imperialist agenda yet again” depending on your viewpoint.
But “the most outstanding and inspiring politician of my lifetime”? Well yes I think so.
Am I wrong? If so, who is if not him?
Bill Clinton? Thatcher?
Whatever. All I know is that in an era of bland uninspiring politicians with no obviously outstanding leaders, Obama stands out a mile.
I’ll miss him. And so will the world.