It is well-known that I am a big fan of Barack Obama. In fact, I am such a fan that I was hoping to be in London for this historic visit, as it happens I am too ill to even attempt it.
His books are well-written and he has been an inspiration to many around the world. Some see him as a symbol of hope; the country he now governs, only 4 decades earlier, still enforced segregation laws and now they have a black president. Obama is credited with increased voter turnout in 2008 and his interest in Middle-Eastern relationships is admirable. He is a great orator and I personally appreciate his intelligence combined with his approachability (metaphorically speaking, of course).
However, on his visit to Ireland and the UK, I have seen a different side to ‘Barry’. He is still charismatic but, having seen several press conferences where he has had to speak without the time to prepare a succinct answer I’ve noticed he has the tendency to ramble and lose his audience. When he arrived in Ireland to visit his great great great great grandfather’s hometown, his Irish accent was cringe-inducing. I got the feeling that, like so many intelligent people, he is perhaps quite socially inept with people who aren’t usually in his social or professional circle.
Now I know Obama has made speeches to thousands of people but those speeches aren’t off the cuff. The speeches are carefully crafted and rehearsed. He delivers these succinctly and I really think there is no politician in the world who can grab an audience as well as Obama – when he’s had time to draft his speech in advance.
And really, who does Barry represent? Although, from his books he seems very interested in his constituents’ problems and wants to make a change, Obama’s background is no different to any of the other men in power. He is a well-educated, wealthy and had a good upbringing. Obama really is just reinforcing the dominant hegemony.
Although he has been criticised for a lacklustre first-term in office, his healthcare reforms are inclusive and important. He might be criticised as being idealistic, but I want our world leaders to be idealistic. I want someone who believes in social justice, fairness and peace.
His British counterpart, however, embodies none of the qualities I look for in a leader. David Cameron is a cringe-worthy sap. His meetings with Barack Obama have demonstrated clearly how willing ‘Dave’ would be to jump up onto Barry’s lap if Obama let him. The visit is a diplomatic visit, which will also encompass trips to other European countries. It is not a UK/US love-in. David Cameron should realise that.
OK, so Cameron’s politics aren’t aligned with my own but, even as a person, I find him pathetic. He is meant to be leading our country but every time I see him, he appears to be begging for support and acceptance. I frequently think back to the press conference he and Nick Clegg held after forming the coalition when Clegg jokingly stepped away from his podium and Cameron called out “Come back!” in a strangulated voice. I know this was all a joke but it really sticks with me. Clegg is Cameron’s go-to guy for delivering unfavourable policies. At least Obama delivers his own bad news and takes the criticism on the chin.
I was irritated by an apparent u-turn by Obama yesterday. In the past, he has played down “the special relationship” between Britain and the US, preferring to concentrate on links with China and the Middle East but in yesterday’s edition of The Times newspaper, an open letter from David Cameron appeared alongside one from Mr Obama, stating the significance of the relationship. I expect it of Cameron, but not of Obama. That, however, was just the start of my disappointment.
Here are several embarrassing things that have happened since Obama arrived in Ireland and the UK:
- Barry’s Irish accent.
- ‘The Beast’ – flown in from the US – got stuck on a ramp in Ireland.
- Barry writes the wrong date in the visitor’s book at Westminster Abbey.
- Barry and Dave playing ping-pong against some inner-city school kids and high-fiving. Dave being so into the high-five he thought it was going to lead somewhere.
- Barry giving a speech at Buck House, the band starts playing the National Anthem and Barry continues talking. The look on the Queen’s face was hilarious.
If it was any other leader, the press would have ripped him to shreds but it seems he has the personality to pull it off. And, as it continues today, the boys have swept in at the last-minute to hand out burgers and sausages to injured UK and US servicemen, leaving their wives to dish out salad and corn on the cob.
Call me a cynic but the Irish trip, and his Irish heritage, will have gone down well with Irish-American voters (it never did the Kennedy’s any harm). I know he’s only human but this trip has made me realise that it’s probably best not to see too much of your hero, you’ll only be disappointed. As it stands, though, I still have a lot of respect for him and hold Barack Obama in high regard. He may not be perfect but he’s someone our politicians could aspire to be like.