The marvellous David Olusoga is going to interview Obama on Wednesday. I have a burning question that I’d like him to ask.
Some background first.
I lived in America (San Jose, CA & NYC, NY) for almost 25 years. I followed American politics very closely from about 1996 until the day I came home to England.
I was perpetually disgusted by the Republicans and disappointed by the Democrats until the skinny kid with the funny name burst onto the scene at the 2004 Democratic Convention.
I followed Obama closely after that speech and was impressed enough to make a promise.
1. runs for president.
2. is elected and
3. doesn’t suck
…then I will vote for his reelection
The implication being that I would apply for US citizenship, having resisted for so many years.
My hopes grew through the excitement of the 2008 primary campaign. I’d never before heard a speaker who was so able to tell a story; to speak of values and morality — rather than policies and legislation — in words that everyone could understand and agree with.
The highlight for me was the Walls of Jericho speech at Ebenezer church — the best speech of my political lifetime.
So my question for Obama is: Why did this all stop after you got elected?
They say that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Obama governed in bullet points. I never again heard him speak to the American people this way after he was elected.
Like many, I was disappointed by the legislative failures of the Obama administration. Yes, yes. Mitch McConnell was mean to him and the Republicans blocked everything he tried to do but that’s not the source of my disenchantment.
It’s that Obama never used his platform — the highest platform in the world — to tell moral stories about why his policies were morally essential.
Candidate Obama told us he was going to change the way that the US Government operates.
“If we do not change our politics — if we do not fundamentally change the way Washington works — then the problems we’ve been talking about for the last generation will be the same ones that haunt us for generations to come.”
“But let me be clear — this isn’t just about ending the failed policies of the Bush years; it’s about ending the failed system in Washington that produces those policies. For far too long, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, Washington has allowed Wall Street to use lobbyists and campaign contributions to rig the system and get its way, no matter what it costs ordinary Americans.”The Decline and Fall of Hope and Change
Obama had so many opportunities to remind us that America is a moral nation but never again did we hear him appeal to us to live up to our ideals. He governed with his phone and his pen when he should have been governing us from his pulpit.
Obama campaigned on a “public option” for healthcare during the primary debates. It was the biggest difference between Obama and Clinton on healthcare policy. He made it a moral issue that 45 million Americans did not have health insurance.
After the election, his speeches on healthcare were all about “bending the cost curve” and “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”. We never again heard about the moral imperative of giving everyone access to healthcare.
Worse, he left the drafting of what became Obamacare to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi who were quick to forget all those campaign appeals to our shared humanity. How might those horse-trading sessions with Stupak and Nelson and Leiberman had gone if they saw Obama on the telly every night telling the 9-year old Ashley’s story of going without food so that her mother could pay for her cancer care?
I consider it a great shame that the greatest political speaker of a generation allowed the Republicans — The Republicans! — to win the moral argument in the public opinion with lies about Death Panels.
Obama missed a moral trick on bailouts for bankers too. Yes, yes. The bail outs happened under Bush but the aftermath and the recovery happened under Obama. It was sickening to see those Goldman Sachs bankers counting their bonuses in the middle of greatest recession in three generations. Was there ever a better time for a Democratic president to take up the cry of “We are the 99%”? Instead, he left it to a bunch of hippies occupying Zuccotti Park and the winning moral slogan for the next couple of years became “Don’t tread on me”.
I don’t even know where to start on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill when BP managed to spill 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico when his political opponents’ favourite slogan in the previous election had been “Drill, baby! Drill!”
Surely an orator skilled in moral exhortation should have been able to recruit the American people to the cause of environmentalism? Off the top of my head, I can’t remember Obama saying much about it at all.
By the 2012 election, Obama’s rhetorical talents were a fading memory and the Republicans were able to deride him as a reader of teleprompters.
Instead of applying for citizenship, I renewed my Green Card and my next vow, four years later was that, if Trump wins, we are going home. And here we are in Bristol.
I didn’t leave my home of 25 years just because I was disappointed in Obama or because I was appalled by Trump or — worst of all — because 70 million people voted for a cruel, incompetent conman to be their president. But they all helped us make up our minds and I am glad to be home.
Professor Olusoga will surely be tempted to ask President Obama about the meaning of this moment when America’s First Crime Family will finally be leaving the White House or to celebrate with Obama the fact that we will finally have a President again who can speak in whole sentences. Maybe he’ll get really tough and ask about whether the nasty Republicans will be as obstructive to Biden’s agenda as they were to Obama’s. But everyone will be asking him that stuff.
I want to know why Obama stopped speaking to us in poetry.
Or, even better, will we hear his poetry again?