Thursday, January 22, 2009

Calm down, dear, he's only a President

Of all the commentators pronouncing on what governments should do next, Matthew Parris of The Times is one of the few who has actually served in government, albeit not at a very grand level. Therefore he knows only too well what Barack Obama may be about to find out - that actions don't always change things and when they do it's often with unintended consequences.

Parris has a very good column today which looks at the unrealistic level of hope being invested this week in a nebulous vision of "change" and makes the point that "those who fan the flames of expectation run the danger of sowing, finally, the seeds of cynicism."

Thankfully the one person who doesn't seem drunk on his oratory is Obama himself.


  1. It's just like over here when Blair arrived. And look what happened there.

    Poor Obama, such a weight of expectation. I don't know why having a black man in the White House should make anything different. The world remains the same.

  2. Quite. Was Germany swept up in communal rapture by the coming to power of their first female chancellor in history? No. And I also doubt America would be going through what it's going through right now if Sen. Clinton had just returned to the White House, with the first First Husband in tow - arguably a more significant event, inasmuch as women represent 50% rather than only 12% of the Americans who haven't had a shot at the job yet.

    Strange days indeed.

  3. I don't agree. The US electorate was desperate for change and electing Obama was a much more radical step than just electing another Clinton. It wasn't the fact she is a woman that prevented her getting the nomination (as you've said, she comes from a much bigger chunk of the population than African Americans). Also, the celebrations are about a symbolic end to the dreadful legacy of slavery that continues to blight America (as well as celebrating the end of Bush). Another factor is Obama's sheer charisma over and above the other candidates. A woman will get there very soon, just not "that one" (and I like her). It will now be almost unacceptable for a candidate for the top job or vice-pres not to be a woman. Here in New Zealand we have just voted out - after three terms - the first female to be elected prime minister. As with Merkel, when Helen Clark got the job, there wasn't dancing in the streets that a woman was finally PM, though a majority was happy with the development. Many women never liked her. We just wanted competency, and we got it. We didn't get charisma. But after three terms, the electorate wanted change, any change. You probably need FDR's charisma to get a 4th term.

  4. When you watch Obama speak, you can't help but compare him to the lumpen Brown, the teenage Cameron, the unctuous Blair. Indeed, even Bill Clinton, the most charismatic public speaker of modern times, doesn't compare. Thing about Obama is that the way he talks, his charisma, is what we think we deserve from our politicians. It's a shock: this is what they should all be like, but although they are our leaders and we voted them in, they're not. Obama is a truly great leader, because he makes us all want to be his follower. Parris misses the point; of course he won't live up to the hype, but right now nobody cares.

  5. This might not be the point (it isn't) but any comparisons with British PMs or wannabes is meaningless. The US President is not called The Most Powerful Man on Earth for a laugh. He really is. PMs don't have anything like the same power. Can Obama make a difference? Yes: he is a leader by nature and a man driven to serve. Every President in my lifetime, save Carter, served in order to lead.

  6. For goodness sake everyone, cheer up. I'm optimistic about Obama because he is not another old, southern, white man (I suspect President Hillary would have generated a similar recation). Let's give the bloke a chance.