Review 2008: President Obama

Suggested by Annette.

Dear Mr. President,

It’s difficult to know where to begin when writing a letter to the person who’s supposed to be the most powerful man in the known world, especially on their first day in office. So much to do, and though eight years seems like a long time, and a wise man once talked about how much the White House was capable of doing in a single day, the business of politics isn’t that easy and time is bound to slip away.

The media are already chockablock with columnists and pundits suggesting what your priorities are and as people shake your hand during the inaugural ball, I suspect a couple of them will take the opportunity to whisper something in your ear. I’m not invited. But if I was, there’s one thing I’d ask. A single favour. Please be your own man.

One of the perennial problems with US Presidents is that they ultimately let the trappings of office and the seal consume them, the oval office becoming a prison without corners or bars for whatever hopes they may have. More often than not, at least recently, they spend most of their presidency trying to live up to those who’ve gone before.

Sometimes, it’s almost as though everything has been about becoming president and it’s not until they’re in office that they decided to y’know try some stuff and see if it works. The first four years become about re-election and then the next four are spent legacy fishing.

Setting aside his incompetence and deceit, the reason your predecessor came across as being so unpresidential was because he spent most of his time trying to be. When giving speeches, he was forever opening sentences with an attempt at great weight, but the gravitas usually drifted away, presumably to the bathroom.

Time and again he gesticulated and stammered, hoping against hope that we’d somehow manage to work out what he was trying to say even though he didn’t have the capacity to say it, famously when he was asked what mistakes he may have made. He had an irritating inability to speak more than a few words without taking a breath, as though he’d been to a public speaking coach and was following his trainer's suggestions to the letter.

Every indication so far is that this isn’t you. You’ll win that second term by simply doing a good job and your legacy will be nothing less than the rebuilding of your country into a better place, something you’ve been planning to do since you were in college. You have a dignity and capacity to string two words together President Bush lacked that already makes you the better statesman.

Much was made during the campaign about your work as a community organiser, but the substance of that, finding jobs for people is an indication that unlike Bush who basically fell into politics because he couldn’t find anything else to do, public service has been your life, using your intellect and rhetorical power of persuasion to make the lives of others better.

Surprisingly, I’m not sure there’s much else I can do to advise you. I’m just a short haired blogger from Liverpool who’s been watching agog at the quality of the people you’ve selected to help in your crusades from aids to experts. There’s been some criticism of these choices because they tend to be from the good schools like Harvard and Yale.

Oddly I can see their point – it sends a message that intelligent people worthy of higher office can’t come from the public school service, but on the other hand why not put the thinking class in key positions at such a critical time when wars are being fought in deserts and caves and on Wall Street? It’s inspiring that you’d unabashedly embrace elitism at a time when the mere idea is treated with such disdain.

During your inauguration speech, you used words and rhetoric which has been persona non grata for the past eight years and even before. You mentioned non-believers and the importance of science, talking to enemies rather than simply demolishing them with tanks, suggesting that everyone can be a hero if they’re prepared to make tough choices. Words difficult for some to hear, and yet you said them on your most important day.

I appreciate you have a busy evening ahead, so I don’t want to keep you much longer, but I just wanted to end by offering another, surprising underscoring of your achievement, if the tears of Jesse Jackson and the general outpouring of support you’ve received from across the political divide and across the world haven’t been enough.

Have you seen the film Undercover Brother? A parody of 1970s blaxploitation films but with the aesthetic of McG’s remake of Charlie’s Angels, it clicked the ears of the cultural stereotypes people of colour have of themselves and caucasians. It’s very funny. Neil Patrick ‘Doogie Howser’ Harris is the token white guy in a spy organisation called the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. and the main villain is simply called The Man. You might have met him – I think he was your opponent in the presidential campaign.

One of the key plot elements is about a potential black candidate for president, a Vietnam war hero played by Lando, sorry, Billy Dee Williams. Somewhere in there he’s brainwashed into opening a chain of fried chicken outlets instead, but the reason I’m mentioning him, and this film is that it illustrates that just six years ago, in 2002 when this film was made, the idea of a black president seemed like a gag, unlikely. Which is the scale of your achievement – you’ve turned a notion which only seemed possible in fantasy, worthy of parody, into a reality.

That’s amazing.

Take care,


1 comment:

Annette said...

A day for the history books. I can hardly believe it's almost over.