Sat, Apr 03, 2010 - Page 9 News List

Obama’s persistence proves that principles can still triumph

While the US president’s first year has proven to be a bruising one, he has managed to fend off the cynics by remembering what drew him to seek office

By Henry Porter  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

These days, when you hear so much from people about what, or who, they are going to vote against, while they complain bitterly that no politicians or set of policies match their particular requirements, it is worth listening to the words US President Barack Obama used to rally his Democrat troops before the healthcare vote last week. They represent the highest political endeavor and give the sense of a cause that remains just and noble despite all the compromises he had to make.

“Every once in a while,” he said, “a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made in all those town meetings and all those constituency breakfasts and all that traveling through the district, all those people who you looked in the eye and you said, you know what, you’re right, the system is not working for you and I’m going to make it a little bit better.”

“And this is one of those moments. This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself, doggone it, this is exactly why I came here. This is why I got into politics. This is why I got into public service ... we are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true,” he said.

What a wonderful phrase that is about vindicating all your best hopes for yourself and the country. This is the finest of political aspirations and as a whole the speech tells you a lot about the tough commitment required from politicians and the public to make democracy work properly today. The speech will bookmark the history of his presidency and do what the proclamation on the emancipation of slaves did for the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in 1862, and the Civil Rights Act for Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

There’s still a long way to go on the new universal health insurance scheme, which will affect millions of black people and which caused such feeling between Republicans and Democrats that black members of Congress were subject to racist insults from protesters on Capitol Hill, but an irreversible change has occurred in the administration, as well as the country. Obama has become the president that he was elected to be. He slugged it out to win a bruising political victory for himself but greater equality and fairness for the US’ less well off too. There is a truly moving continuity of purpose that links 1862, 1964 and 2010.

Obama’s first year or so, exactly like Lincoln’s, has been characterized as consisting of disappointment, failed initiatives, false starts and what many regard as far too much deliberation. Americans of all colors and stripes were disgruntled. The Tea Party protest swelled with a strident, inchoate panic about un-American policies, a reflex that Lincoln and Johnson would both have recognized because this kind of allergic reaction was the measure of the changes they promulgated.

The presidency has a spring in its step, there is a halo of power that can only be won in battle and now suddenly the rest of the enormous canvas on which the modern US president operates seems broken with shafts of light that are as much because of the exercise of principle as because of intrigue and low politics.

Following his triumph on Sunday, Obama met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) on Tuesday to discuss new settlements in east Jerusalem, which the administration has consistently opposed because they threaten progress on peace talks. Bibi didn’t give an inch on the settlements, so Obama left him to his own devices while he had dinner, which, according to one Israeli newspaper, was the sort of treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial New Guinea.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top