"While dictators rage and statesmen talk, all Europe dances — to The Lambeth Walk."

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

A British Perspective on Barack Obama

Yesterday morning I was awakened by a text message. It turned out to be from an English friend currently living in Brussels, and it read:

'Cheer up! This might be statistically the most depressing day of the
year, but it's Bush's last day in office! Obama tomorrow!!'

Of course, it was either on a mass mailing list, or he sent it just to vex me. At the time, it was a minor annoyance, but I ended up thinking about it all day. Perhaps someone out there will be kind enough to enlighten me; just what on earth am I supposed to be celebrating? What momentous thing is it that the election of this junior Senator from Illinois will give to the world?

I ask because criticising George Bush has become a national sport here. Of course, most left-wing newspapers did not have the courage to knock his pal Tony Blair at the time; God forbid, that might actually have been in the British national interest!
But as I see it, the biggest problem with Bush wasn't that 'he lied and people died'; wasn't that he was an outrageously right-wing (stop laughing at the back) dictator, who couldn't decide between a Christian theocracy where thousands of poor women were 'punished with a baby' or sending hundreds of poor young black men off to die for the oil to power his new tank-like limousine... oops, got my presidents crossed there.

In all seriousness, in my opinion the worst thing about Bush was that he was too inexperienced to be president. At the moment, in the absence of him actually having ever done anything, ever, the worst thing about Barack Obama is that... well, he's too inexperienced to be president.
Except he makes Bush (and Palin for that matter), look positively overqualified in terms of practical experience.

Don't they say that doing exactly the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is the first sign of madness?

Let's be completely honest here; Bush's presidency was far from successful. But there's a difference between things being a failure in their own right, and things being a failure because everyone has already made up their mind they are beforehand. Whatever mistakes Bush made, a huge number of people were waiting for him to slip up before he'd even begun, and rubbing their hands with glee when the slide began. Were they thinking of the good of the nation, as they ask conservative Americans to do now?

Anyway, this Obama chap; why do we all love him so? Well, everyone except me, I seem to have mislaid my invitation to that particular party, for better or worse.
I'm not just talking about Americans, either. I've seen several London offices with his asinine 'Big Zero' logo proudly displayed in the window. Of course, these same people probably want Bush tried for the war in Iraq, but the war in Afghanistan is still surprisingly popular here, despite the rising death toll, and the fact all we're really doing is propping up a different kind of crook, Hamid Karzai. Even with coalition forces present, he's government is so weak and ineffectual I doubt he even gets to decide on his own hairstyle, let alone govern. However, this is seen as a nobler war, as no doubt will any war undertaken by Obama (his stance on Pakistan may well lead to his Iraq). There's no accounting for taste, right? Or double standards, for that matter.

Ex-pat British actress Anna Friel opines that we love him because America finally has a clever president. Or, as she put it, one that's able to read. This is useful, because I make it a policy to never form a political opinion until I've checked what some out of work C-list actress thinks (in the UK she was famous for the Brookside lesbian kiss, in the US, apparently, for 'Pushing up the Daisies', which is now doing just that).

Read he most certainly can. During election season, I shed copious tears over his delivery from that auto-cue (teleprompter). I hadn't seen anything quite like it before outside of an awards ceremony. He is clever though, right? I mean, he's a Harvard-educated constitutional lawyer, community organiser, Senator, Spiderman comic character, President, God-King in waiting. But then, even supermen slip up. Like when he said he'd visited all 57 states. Or when he said he aimed to serve the maximum allowed ten years as president.
Well, if he manages to get that pesky 22nd Amendment out of the way, anything's possible, right? Yes we can!

As far as the gaffes go, everyone makes mistakes. It just seems that some mistakes are more equal than others. I had to turn to blogs to find out about the times Obama slipped up, or the gaps in his CV, or his worrying voting record, or again his lack of experience. The media in general were too busy performing random character assassinations on Sarah Palin.
Is being 'clever' in this context a good thing? I would say lawyers and barristers going into politics have ruined the entire process in Britain. All it really means is he's a smooth talker. I would imagine the average person would now be much more inclined to trust a lawyer than a politician.

At least the lawyer actually works for you.

But this intelligence test stuff is nonsense. I'm not saying the ideal president is completely stupid, but often academic success and intelligence are totally different to leadership and life skills. Imagine for example you're a soldier in a warzone, about to go into battle. Who do you pick as your captain? The man with a Harvard degree (who was too busy climbing the greasy pole to ever use it), or the man who's done all this countless times and come out the other side?

So at this point, I'll ask again, for posterity, why am I supposed to worship this man? What has he ever done?

The two most common answers one will receive from his supporters at this point is either 'he is just extremely popular, he united the country/world/cosmos, and you're jealous', or 'he's black, but became president! That's a huge achievement.'

Let's deal with these points. First, his huge popularity. He is popular, that's a fact. Am I jealous? Well, when Barack blows his nose he gets a crowd cheering and women fainting; I get told to go outside. But really, so what? Yes, he's popular. But why? Just because something is so doesn't automatically make it right or natural.
Frankly, I don't care about how popular he is; what concerns me is it's getting to the point of mass hysteria, and it's also getting dangerous. During the election, anyone who spoke out against him was a 'racist'. Even if they were telling the truth. Even if that truth would have sunk another candidate.

That was convenient, because his long time pastor Jeremiah Wright, an actual racist, was never really condemned as such. What if Palin or McCain had spent 20 years going to a church where the preacher regularly ranted about his hatred of blacks? Would that have been air-brushed out of history, too?

In a democracy like America's, the media is supposed to be part of a fair system of checks and balances on government and power. They are not supposed to treat one man like Jesus and the other like the Devil. In reality, that's what happened. My question is, if that's what it was like before he had power, what will it be like after?

We're already discussing repealing the 22nd Amendment, carving his inauguration speech in marble, naming a day after him; this has all the hallmarks of a cult of personality, not popularity deserved or earned. So in this context, did he unite America? I'd actually say he's a divisive figure. Having one rule for one group and a second for another based on race is wrong; that's what the civil rights movement was about. Seems it's not wrong when the boot's on the other foot, though.

I think this leads us nicely into 'the first black president' argument.
OK, a momentous event in African-American history, to be sure. Or is it? Obama has about as much in common with the average black American as I do. Probably less, in fact. Given America's history, I think this moment would have been important - if they'd found the right man. White Westerners have spent the last 30 years being indoctrinated that race doesn't exist, that colour doesn't matter, we're all evil racists, and much other trite half-true nonsense.

All of a sudden, race matters again - to the point were a man's character should be overlooked in deference to his colour. Black Americans had the most 'racist' (i.e. voted according to their perceived group interest, evil and wrong when others do it) voting pattern in the 2008 election, but commentators still chose to focus on telling white people that this didn't get them off the evil racist hook.

I doubt anything ever will, because it's too profitable a racket; and not only in America. This is demonstrated by the unbearably smug Trevor Phillips, a man to black britons what the Tsars were to the Russians. Trevor has decided that if the US is ready for Obama, we in Britain are ready for a black leader, too (and almost a black Dr Who, but not quite).
Of course, achievements and suitability, even the feelings of the majority, aren't important. As long as he's black. It's symbolic, don't you know.

There are still some who talk as if Obama's election was the greatest event in human history so far. This is disturbing for two reasons; firstly they (along with his wife) are attempting to pretend that he overcame the huge hurdles of racism in order to reach his goal, when that could not be further from the truth; most white people I've met worship the fellow, really and truly only because he's black. But no, in Michelle Obama's world, you can only win as the underdog, always striving up (well, her salary certainly is). But the idea that being black in the US or Britain today is some kind of disadvantage is simply an insult to one's intelligence.

Secondly, the man had a $600 million warchest, the almost unanimous backing of celebrities and popular culture, plus the almost unanimous backing of the press. I'd like to think anyone who was breathing could have given it a good shot under those circumstances.

I suppose everything will just go on as normal; but the concerning phenomenon of racism being perceived as a one way street, plus the absolutely mindless adulation of this individual make him potentially dangerous, if he wished to be. I have been on the receiving end of his supporters; very few offer reasons or useful arguments, just optimistic buzzwords no one really wants to disagree with. 'Hope!' 'Change!' 'Unity!' Whatever.
It's curiously similar to arguing about religion with people; it seems you either believe, or you don't. But that's OK - it's not like religion or blind faith ever led to conflict!

Not God Bless, certainly not God Damn, but Good Luck, America; I fear you'll need it.

No comments: