On Barack Obama

I'm not American, but I couldn't help noticing that you've had some interesting goings-on over there. For one thing, a brand shiny new President, a very good-looking and charistmatic chappie whom everyone seems to like, even those who didn't vote for him.

I have no clue how American politics work. I once asked some American friends to explain the policies of each Presidential candidate to me so that I could work out who I would vote for were I entitled to do so. Basically, I explained, I would vote for the one who is going to ban abortion and guns, and bring in a free healthcare service like the NHS we rejoice in here. Apparently that was neither of them, so I would probably have been forced to abstain.

I find myself liking Barack Obama too, and not just because of the brave new world "I have a dream" thingy. (It's less of a big deal here because we never had the kind of racism America did. My theory is that it's because the British empire, at its height, included large swathes of Africa and Asia, so when the indigenous peoples started coming over here -bearing in mind that Britain abolished slavery in 1833 - we were terribly happy to see them. Here, after all, were British people with dark skin; brothers and sisters from afar; walking and talking evidence of the might and scope of the glorious British empire.) No, the reason I have so suddenly taken to Obama is because of his wonderful way with words.

I listened to his inaugural speech on a treadmill at the gym, as rock music played from a class which was taking place. The soundtrack was somehow very appropriate. Obama really knows how to use language. Metaphor, hyperbole and the most incredible rhetoric all delivered with conviction and determination. I have always maintained that language is a powerful weapon, and well-chosen words can stir emotions like nothing else (except perhaps music), and Obama is well aware of this. (Or his speechwriters are.) At the end of the address even I was moved, but I wonder how many of those listening could successfully paraphrase what he actually said. Lots of stirring stuff and a grand delivery, but really it boils down to "Things are going to change for the better because that's what we want, and we have to be nice to people."

I admire people who understand the power of words, and can use them to their advantage. I just hope, when it comes to foreign policy, none of it is lost in translation.


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