Thursday, 19 January 2017

Thank You, Mr President

I don't believe that I remember the Presidency of George H.W. Bush.

I was 10 and a bit when he lost the 1992 election and handed over the Presidency the following January to Bill Clinton.

Before the World Became Important
It's odd but 1992 was a year when I seemed to become aware of a world outside of my own happy bubble at Hungerford Farm, Loveston in south Pembrokeshire. I became aware of football (and 25 years later am still saddled with being an Aston Villa fan). I became aware of F1 and delighted in roaring home Nigel Mansell to his only World Championship win that year (though I do have vague memories of the dismay as his efforts at the tail end of the previous season petered out).

I'd also become aware of politics. The 1992 General Election for this then 9 year old and the battle between Major and Kinnock loomed large that spring. But the downfall of Margaret Thatcher less than 18 months earlier in 1990? No memory. The first Iraq war of 1991? No recollection. Even by 1992, the world of international politics had yet to infiltrate my mind.

Bill Clinton
But things were to change. I began to realise that I had political instincts and a natural interest in the world at large, as well as local affairs, during my time in secondary school. As it happens, that 7 year period between 1993-2000 ran almost in direct parallel with the Presidency of William Jefferson Clinton.

Cheeky Bill
This of course was also the era of 'Blair' in his prime. Both got on well as they sought to forge a '3rd way' in politics. My socially liberal conscience was becoming ever clearer to me but it was also evident that I was no New, Old or any kind of Labourite. No, I was firmly a liberal and by my days studying A-Levels between 1998-2000, I was aware that I was specifically, a Liberal Democrat.

 In America though, it was a simple case of Democrat Vs Republican and my increasingly burgeoning interest in national and international politics and the beating liberal heart that was growing within me meant that as far as American politics was concerned, I would comfortably ally myself to those old Donkeys as opposed to those great Elephants.

The Monica Lewinsky scandal of course rocked Clinton's Presidency in the latter years and yet by the end, it didn't harm his personality. He had overseen a benign economic decade in American history and his down to earth persona seemed to chime with that relaxed 90s vibe.

Al Gore, no...George W. Bush!
I was in my opening term in Aberystwyth University and specifically, in the Pantycelyn computer room when the November 2000 Presidential election night results were coming through.

Of course, it was all dependent on Florida. One of the networks called it for Al Gore. Delight! The Presidency was his and Clinton's liberally sympathetic, centrist agenda would continue! But no, of course those hanging chards had other ideas and the Supreme Court would eventually hand Florida to George Bush Jnr despite his having won less of the popular vote than Al Gore.

Oh dear Dubya
Despair wasn't the word but of course worse would follow. Not so much the invasion of Afghanistan following 9/11 but the invasion of Iraq in 2003, without UN international support, rocked me to the core. I was delighted that my own party leader Charles Kennedy was so clear in his opposition at that time.

So when the 2004 election came around, I was desperate that a new JFK would knock Bush Jnr out of the White House after just one term, just like his father. I recall being at home in the Preseli Hills that November evening with my one and to date, only bout of tonsillitis. I was there by the Rayburn all night knowing that whichever of Bush or Kerry won two of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, would win the election.

Kerry took Pennsylvania but Bush took Ohio and once again, that there Florida for 4 more years with Dick Cheney ever ominously there in his shadows as Vice-President.

It was a depressing 8 years for a liberal internationalist like myself  to live through but hindsight being what it is, was it really all that? Probably yes. But time may just tell.

Barack Obama
In those early primaries, I planted my own support in the Obama camp from the off. I wasn't convinced by Hillary at the time though that would change, but in that young Senator for Illinois, there was a vision and a passion and enthusiasm that was infectious.

Happy Days!
The sheer joy I felt at his election in the fall of 2008 wasn't just because of what he could bring to the plate but also as a direct result of the release from those 8 years under Dubya. Allied with Obama's victory was the Democratic sweep of Congress which meant that in those first two years of office, he made the sweeping changes to America's healthcare system with the Affordable Care Act that was so desperately needed.

But of course the backlash and the emergence of the Tea Party that came from 'Obamacare' would cast a shadow over the remaining 8 years of his Presidency. Much has been said about the lack of progress that Obama made with his domestic agenda. But following the mid-term elections of 2010, it is possible to make the case that he faced the most aggressive Congress ever set against an incumbent President.

What chance did he have against such an insurmountable system of checks-and-balances that is fundamental to the American constitution?

But he left so much more than a disappointing domestic legacy. He brought America back in from the cold and into the international arena with a measured, sensible tone that had been so lacking under the Presidency of the previous incumbent. The gravitas and sense of intellectualism that Obama brought to the podium when he spoke was a breath of fresh air. You could see when he spoke and when he hesitated momentarily to ponder a reply to a question that he was thinking deeply about what he was about to say. Not a sound-bite, but a carefully analysed and considered response to yet another complex and intricate problem facing his administration, his country and our world.

His Nobel Peace Prize was premature. It was clearly given in the belief that he meant well with what he said. Of that there can be no doubt. But as much as we desire positive change, such are the ways of diplomacy, it never was so easy in reality and on issues like conflict in the Middle East, we are possibly falling further back from the idea of a sustainable two state solution than we were in 2008. But if that is the case, the blame can not be placed at Obama's door - but at that of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Thank You Mr President
His Presidency has not been all that he or we liberals had hoped. Those days of wild optimism in late 2008 were probably akin to those of early May 1997 back here in the UK. Maybe we should've known better. Life is never that straightforward as there are always the conflicting interests of conservative forces seeking to hold back the change that is always needed.

Progressivism Vs Conservatism will always be the big battle in contemporary politics.

But despite these trials and tribulations, Barack Hussein Obama and his worthy Vice President Joe Biden and fabulous First Lady Michelle, showed the way to those like myself that optimism, intellect and a liberal, progressive agenda can be pursued with humour, compassion and kindness.

Whatever the future may bring, I thank Obama and his administration over the past 8 years for proving that good can be done in the world...if only you will it.

God Bless the 44th President of these United States.