Thursday, January 22, 2009

Presidential enthusiasm

On first entering the Oval Office FDR famously let out a scream which brought aides rushing in to assist him. Obama must surely also have a sense of the magnitude of the task bequeathed to him by the baby boomers, but I still imagine he had one of those poorly-contained smiles on his face when he made his way into that room for the first time as its new executive occupant.

Will he cover the walls with pictures of himself? Helen Searls has written an interesting piece in Spiked! about the preemptive iconisation of America's 44th President:

"Che Guevara, whose simple image was again just a face decoupled from a political message, used to decorate the bedrooms of the youth of America and Europe. Few who owned the poster knew very much about Che Guevara the politician, but having it on your wall signalled that you were somehow progressive and radical. Today, though, progress and radicalism have been replaced by hope and faith. And it is not simply teenagers who want to identify with this message."

Obama made several speeches on Tuesday, not just that epic set-piece at the Capitol. Perhaps the one that will stick in our minds is that which he made at the Western inauguration ball, the ninth that he and Michelle had attended. It was delivered in the 'tired and emotional' fashion made fashionable by France's teetotaling President: "Lesh Save America. I love you....Michelle loves you..."

Still, even these public moments weren't exactly ad-libbed. He repeated the same remarks about his wife's heels at every bash they graced throughout the evening of his first half day in office.

Commentators on Fox and CNN tried to locate Obama's acceptance speech appropriately within the canon. Not as good as Kennedy, some suggested, but then every judgment we make about that President is tempered by what we know of his fate. The ultimate test of Yes We Can will have to be Yes We Did. For until the results are in there is a danger that fine intentions degrade into a form of political escapism.

However, there's no question that self-evident but half-remembered truths can benefit greatly from the kind of kick up the backside they get once repeated to a mass audience by a genuinely inspirational leader.

My own enthusiasm for Obama's words was tempered by the big turn-off delivered by the effect they were clearly having on some audience members who, heads back and hands clasped in front of their faces, were murmuring strange, unenlightened political incantations. And yet, in spite of the fact that there was plenty of hope and faith in Obama's message, non-believers got a brief mention too, and the new President promised to "restore science to its rightful place."

"Hope, n. Desire and expectation rolled into one." Ambrose Bierce

1 comment:

scott said...

He's obviously a christian but it seems he's of the fairly enlightened variety. He lives in the fact-based universe. I too was heartened by his remarks on science and the rumor here is that he's purging various departments--esp. the Dept. of the Interior--of Bush-appointed born-again nutjobs.