Like millions of people around the world, I too watched with gleaming eyes, a young President addressing his people by saying “Yes we can”, on the election day evening of November 2008, a year that already sunk the whole world into a deep depression a couple of months before that, and a world mired by the tensions in the Middle East due to the greed and goof ups of the previous administration that led to a disaster in Iraq and disorientation in Afghanistan. In a country not long ago that practised inequality among its people based on the colour of their skin, there couldn’t be anything more inspiring that “Yes we can”, speech invoking the dream of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Yet, eight years and a few months later, when Barack Obama leaves his office, I am reminded of the Norwegian saying, “When all is said and done, more is said than done.” Starting from the irony of earning a Nobel Peace Prize and ending up dropping bombs around the world every 20 minutes or so throughout his two terms, and in fact more than his supposedly “war mongering” predecessor (or more than any President so far if I am not wrong), to the tensions in Syria and arming the rebels there coupled with the vacuum that he left in Iraq that led to the growth of ISIL which is the number one threat in the world today, to making claims of record jobs being created that still didn’t put more money in the hands of low income people, creating more income inequality so that factory workers and Unions in Democratic party’s bastions would vote for an obscenely rich billionaire who ran a reality show than their own “progressive” candidate, a Universal healthcare that he wanted to last more for his legacy than its practicality and usefulness, that today his own party admits it is a monumental disaster given the way the costs have gone up, the worst of racial divide and violences in a nation where the Blacks hoped to heal the wounds with one of their own being the President, pushing the whole world to the brink of World War III and reminding us the dark days of the Cold war of the second half of the nineties simply because he couldn’t stand Putin, or for that matter Netanyahu, that he would go to the extent of reversing decades old policy of the US with respect to Israel, and more importantly a divided America today, where the ones who are threatening to secede are not the traditional Confederacy, but the modern and liberal Californians, and a highly diminished Democratic Party, that lost the Presidency, Congress and is at a historical low in terms of the number of States they control, even as its outgoing President has the highest approval ratings, I wonder if Obama himself has to rate him in future against the promises he made in the beginning, how would he do that against what was achieved by the end of his two terms. Given his smugness, I don’t expect him to be honest there, as increasingly I have felt his middle name is H for Hypocrisy.
Perhaps given that he himself came up as an anti-establishment breath of fresh air who fought Hillary in the Primaries and mobilised funds from large sections of common people than typical Wall Street funding, there were much more expectations about him bringing the Change he promised in his campaign, yet belied it to become the very establishment himself, so much so that space today is occupied by, of all the people, his successor who will take oath today, as Obama himself passively allowed a better candidate in Democratic party to lose that space even as Wikileaks were exposing how his party fixed and rigged the Primaries against Sanders, yet would blame Russians for losing the elections eventually. Such selective silence that he practised, like not addressing the Islamic radicalism, but going high in rhetoric about a non-existent intolerance in Modi’s India, blaming the gun (and the lobby) instead of the ones who pull the trigger, and above all, in the Benghazi issue or the Saudi, Qatari and Kuwaiti links to Clinton Foundation that according to him is not meddling with the elections as much as Russians who allegedly hacked into Podesta’s mails. Even his biggest foreign policy achievement which was the Iran nuclear deal, turned out to be a complete sham on the ground as sanctions continue to exist, and Cuba would have normalised the relations anyways as Castro is history now.
No not all things were as bad as it sounds. In fact at the end of the first term, he had a pretty decent four years when Osama was killed, Syria was not a problem as it is now, Putin was still a good friend and he had launched his ambitious Universal healthcare program despite its obvious glitches and horrendous execution. In fact his progressive stand with respect to Gay marriage or Climate change and the Paris accord that he and Kerry put together into a deal were definitely appreciable. It is just that his unwillingness to work with anyone who differs with him and the high pedestal that he stands on, like a Messiah who wouldn’t deal with the lesser mortals among the opposition, that created the divide even further, and made him bypass Congress many times to pass an executive order where key legislations are required. The classic example and the inflection point in his Presidency was the Newtown school shooting in 2012 December that crushed almost every American soul, an event that made him champion the responsible gun control personally, I sincerely thought he would go to any extent to make that work like how Lincoln did for 13th amendment or even a Lyndon B Johnson did for Civil rights as shown in the movie All the way. The fact that he failed in it perhaps made him even more uninterested and derisive of Opposition. As Obama himself admitted, he lacked the ability of a Lincoln or Roosevelt to walk across the aisle and work along with the Opposition to make key legislative reforms. In my opinion, more than any oratory, this is what I would expect in a great President that Obama was woefully short of, that he looks good only because his predecessor was that bad. Or the successor looks (and sounds) terrible!
Eight years ago this day, I warmed upto his inaugural speech fighting the cold in Heathrow as I was waiting for my return flight, much like the many thousands who were braving the cold in Washington to listen to him as he said – “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation. But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”
Sadly, it sounds more an empty rhetoric to me now when I read it again. As the next one is going to take oath, I don’t look forward to a great speech anymore when a 140 character tweet from the new President would do much better to convey what he wants to convey, than a 140 minutes long speech. That he has made even long and inspiring speeches passé, and meaningless, somewhat sums up his Presidency as well.
Good bye Obama, you won’t be missed!