Week 4: Hero – Barack Obama

by George_East on January 27, 2013

hero_icon2For his unashamedly progressive second inaugural speech, President Barack Obama is our Hero of the Week

I supported Hillary Clinton as Democratic Party candidate for the Presidency in 2008.   My reasons for doing so was that for all of the impressive change-oriented speech-making of Barack Obama, there appeared, to me, to be a very real weakness.

That weakness was the belief that it was possible to be, somehow, post-partisan or bipartisan, given the nature of the Republican Party.  Obama seemed to think that the virulence of opposition to the Presidency of Bill Clinton (leading to the absurdity of the impeachment process over a blow job in the Oval Office) was about it being Bill Clinton, rather than it being about Bill Clinton being a Democrat.

Obama seemed to believe that the Republicans were people he could deal with and who would want to deal with him.   Hillary would, through bitter experience, never have been so credulous.

This naivety explained most of his first term problems – a health care plan that was radically watered down to get bipartisan support, but which got only 1 vote in the House and none in the Senate from the Republican side;  a stimulus package which was radically reduced to get bipartisan support, but which did not achieve a single vote from House Republicans.

Obama seemed to be constantly surprised by the unreasonableness and nakedly partisan approach of his political opponents, when he all he had to do was actually listen to what they were saying.  Mitch McConnell, Republican leader in the Senate stated that the first priority for Republicans (despite the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression) was ‘to destroy Obama’s presidency’.

And that was my abiding take on most of Obama’s first term – a talented and well-meaning centrist politician desperately trying to be something that is actually impossible in Washington given the current Republican Party.

This week, as his second term embarks, a very different Obama was heard – one we have perhaps not heard since the earliest days of his candidacy: the unashamed progressive.  This was an Obama who set out to reclaim from the Tea Party right the inheritance of the hallowed founding fathers’ and the secularly consecrated documents that sit at the heart of American identity:  the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

He did it in some style – connecting the struggles for American independence with the later struggles for women’s rights, civil rights for black Americans and gay rights.      But he went far further than that, identifying the core American value from these documents as ‘equality’   and rooting action to achieve it in the collective, rather than the plucky enterprise of the individual.    ‘We, the people…’, not ‘I the individual.’

It was a great speech, one that anyone interested in seeing how an argument can be built and effectively delivered should read.  But more than that it was a speech would reminded us what America can be, but so often is not.  For that, this Award is give.


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