Ten years ago, I found myself living for six months in Berkeley, California. A recently announced candidate for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination was due to hold a rally in nearby Oakland, on St. Patrick’s Day. Like most people living in the USA in 2007 I was intrigued by this young, gifted and black politician (actually, as half-white and half-black he could just as easily be described as ‘white’). Of course, he hadn’t a hope against the Clintonafia but he was definitely one for the future.
It was a toss-up. The San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day Parade, or Barack Obama. Curiosity won out. I put my ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ tee-shirt back in the drawer, and took the BART to Oakland. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
There is no need to describe how electrifying he was. Everybody knows the man is a rhetorician non pareil. He stood on a dais projected into the crowd, and introduced himself. He spoke for about twenty minutes without notes. Afterwards he shook hands with anyone who wanted to press his flesh. There were green tee-shirts on sale bearing the legend ‘🍀’Bama for President—St. Patrick’s Day, 2007, Oakland, California.’ I’m a sucker for commemorative tee-shirts, so I bought one. I still have it, though I was a bit surprised when the young vendor insisted on getting my email address before she sold it to me. Since that day I’ve had a decade of personal emails from the man himself. Where does he get the time?
He inherited a nightmare dreamed up by neo-liberals and deficit Republicans. He leaves with approval ratings touching sixty-percent (George W. Bush was at thirty-nine). His finger has been in the dike for eight years. When he withdraws it—forced into doing so by the twenty-second amendment—his successor’s fist will gleefully smash through the hole Obama has been protecting.
Granted, he campaigned in dizzying poetry and often governed in leaden prose. He has disappointed his progressive constituency. He acted as judge and jury on a number of Middle Eastern radicals, left the vultures of Wall St alone or strengthened, kept Guantanamo open, disregarded the misery of Aleppo.
Perhaps his greatest achievement—aside from the now-imperilled Affordable Care Act—was incumbency. While he was in the White House, albeit gelded by a resentful Congress, he was a bulwark against the regressive forces that have now been released.
If we apply the Monty Python test—‘What has Obama ever done for us’—he has bled, read, healed, smiled, cried, soothed, embraced, turned the other cheek repeatedly (perhaps too often) and exercised a level of adult self-control unfamiliar in once and future presidents. His grace, example, open-mindedness, charm, articulacy, folksiness, intelligence, humour and calmness were provocations to those affronted by the sight of a black man in the White House.
And what about that jump shot?
On 9 November 2016 anyone with even vague pretensions to progressivism or leftism experienced the pain felt by Breitbart-man on 2 November 2008. We can only hope that four years from now (please let it not be eight) the right will be as disappointed with the actual results of a Trump presidency as the left is with Obama’s. They certainly won’t be disappointed by Trump’s style. I wonder. Is this the first time an incoming President has read fewer books than his predecessor has written?
As usual Shakespeare has it covered. Act 3 Scene Four of Hamlet. The Prince of Denmark is closeted with his mother. He presents her with a picture of the late King, her husband. Simply substitute the word ‘President’ for ‘husband’ and away we go.
Look here, upon this picture, and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
See, what a grace was seated on this brow;
Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself;
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;
A combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man:
This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:
Here is your husband; like a mildew’d ear …
Let’s hope for some 2020 vision. Best case scenario, four years from now Barack Obama returns to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as consort of the first woman President.