Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Hopes & Fears for President Obama

This afternoon the world's attention will be focussed on one city and one individual. Barack Obama takes office with the hopes of the planet on his shoulders. It will be almost impossible for him to live up to the expectations of the American people, let alone those of the entire world.

The media are treating him as some God-like figure who can do no wrong. We all know that the media loves to build people up so they can knock them down again, and Obama will be no different. He takes office at a time where the world looks more unstable than at any time since the end of the Second World War. The world banking system lies in tatters, the terror threat is ever present and America's reputation in the world is at an all time low.

The euphoria surrounding his inauguration feels like the optimism felt by much of the United Kingdom when Tony Blair took office. Even many Conservatives were swept along by the feeling that a new age had indeed dawned. And therein lies a lesson for the Obama administration. Tony Blair rode the crest of a wave of popularity for his entire first term. He could have done anything and got away with it - he could even have joined the euro. But instead he did very little and achieved very little. Obama's first hundred days and first year in office will be crucial. He needs to hit the ground running and enact some real changes immediately. He can do it because he has the congressional backing. If I were him I would issue a presidential order to close Guantanamo within hours of taking office. That would signal real change which people could believe in. If he sits back on his laurels and gives the appearance of believing that just getting elected was achievement enough, he will be letting down an awful lot of people, not least those of us who supported him against all our tribal political instincts.

Many people have a lot of hopes for the Obama administration, but there are an awful lot of fears as well. Here are a few of my own...

I hope Barack Obama will...
  • Issue an order to close Guantanamo within hours of taking office
  • Make clear he runs US foreign policy, not Hillary Clinton
  • Within a month, launch a meaningful middle east peace initiative
  • Send the necessary troops to Afghanistan
  • Realise that you can't spend your way out of a recession

I fear Barack Obama will...

  • Have his presidency dogged by a lengthy economic slump
  • Not live up to expectations
  • Waste his first term by being short termist
  • Expand Bush's policy of increasing the size of government
  • Be assassinated

That's the great unspoken fear of us all. Because if the worst were to happen one can only imagine the consequences for America. But on this day of all days let's dwell on the optimism that Obama engenders, even in his opponents. We should all wish him well, for if his Presidency is a success, it can only mean good things for us and the wider world.


Anonymous said...

My, you really are a cheery soul Iain.

I doubt if Obama will get assassinated (can you imagine the backlash against the US security services if they allowed that to happen?)

I can envisage a step-up in fundamentalist terror activities (maybe another, if somewhat smaller, attack on mainland USA).

Obviously, the election of Obama to the Presidency is momentous (and maybe next time we may see a Native American selected and elected as the 45th President!).

The most inspiring thing about his tenure is that there is finally an intellectual in the White House - let's all hope his administration can deliver.

Jim Baxter said...

Brilliant. I hope that he will not be bipartisan and conciliatory, a hope already undermined by his choice of Secretary of State. I hope that he will be his own man and not dilute his determination with the points of view of others. I hope that he will be a dictator, a very benign one who can be voted out but will be re-elected because he deserves to be.

Unknown said...

"Be assassinated"

That's not only the most hidious unspoken fear, it's also a real possibility. How frightening is that?

I'd like to think that if we elected a black Prime Minister in this country, there would be no such possibility. Maybe I am looking at Britain through rose coloured glasses though?

Jabba the Cat said...

The best thing would be an Israeli full attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities tonight ;-))

Bill Quango MP said...

Out of interest.. Why would Obama being assassinated be more likely than Bush?
Bush was hated throughout the Middle East. Satan in human form. If a suicide sniper/ bomber couldn't get W, is a homegrown racist more likely to do so?

The Orator said...

There's one thing, identified by Boris Johnson, that Obama did merely by being elected - restoring America as the last best hope of Earth

Unknown said...

@Bill Quango MP

That's a very good point.

I think it just boils down to the fact that there are some very dangerous racists still lurking in the states - the type of people dangerous enough to take action for their dangerous beliefs. I think that's where the fear comes from.

Bob's Head Revisited said...

I wish people would stop saying Obama is black. He's a light-skinned man of colour.
I've acquired more colour in my chops from a two hour stroll along Littlehampton beach on a balmy day in April. And I'm a pasty-faced git with an aversion to fruit and veg.

JuliaM said...

"I doubt if Obama will get assassinated (can you imagine the backlash against the US security services if they allowed that to happen?)"

Are you suggesting they 'allowed' the other assasinations?

I mean, it's not really within their control, is it, no matter what security they put round him?

"The most inspiring thing about his tenure is that there is finally an intellectual in the White House..."

Really? Who is it? Have they hired a nanny, or something...?

Anonymous said...


Interesting thought on him being assassinated. It's not something I've mused on until now, but it's quite plausible. It'd start a massive civil war; White, fundamentalist, christian nutcases versus every ethnic minority in the states.

As for what he'll achieve, unfortunately I think that he'll end up being the most hated man in America after he fails to deliver on jsut about everything he promised during his compaign. He changed his stance on Iraq and Palestine the closer he got to the whitehouse, and now he's there he'll be up against the usual suspects. Everything he's promised on equality, black and white, rich and poor, will fail to appear as the old guard will suck on their teeth, look at him like a mechanic appraising a car and they'll say, "you're 'avin a laugh sunshine!"

Dick the Prick said...

I reckon it's a better operation than Blair could ever manage. Also whilst Blighty imports much of the American slickness and clinical business of politics, I'd not be even slightly surprised if they cribbed from us too.

I'm genuinely chuffed for the lad and being a senator will have helped. Blair's problem was the coiterie of sychophants and his complete disregard for due process and Parliament - tosser.

Anonymous said...

I hope that he can live up to all the hype, but I do have my doubts.
He's promised all things to all people and I don't see him being able to deliver.
The recession is going to take up a lot of his time and energy, so things like health care reform (which is desperately needed) will probably never happen.

His lack of experience is also a problem. He's been a junior senator for a very short time, and did little whilst in that post. I do worry.

Chris said...

>finally an intellectual in the White House

Plainly you know nothing about Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Teddy Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson, inter alia. Do you just mean 'He's not George W. Bush'? If you do, why not say so, and prove you're a fool as well as an ignoramus.

Doug said...

If there is one thing Obama has shown is that he is good a long term strategic planning.

Dick the Prick said...

Oooh Chris - handbags! I think the psychs call it closure where the rest of us call it cathartic. I keep remembering that the lad was never meant to win - how absolutely brilliant that he beat the Clinton dynasty.

You gotta wonder how truly free America is when power is concentrated in such tight cliques. And a black dude from Chicago walks it - exceptional.

JuliaM said...

"You gotta wonder how truly free America is when power is concentrated in such tight cliques. And a black dude from Chicago walks it - exceptional."

Thee are cliques, and there are cliques....

Anonymous said...

There are cliques......and he is still no black guy!

Trend Shed said...

Regime change alone will help fuel confidence in the US economy and financial system.

In the UK we are still lumbered with one of the key architects of "the age of irresponsibility".

The pound continues to crash all the while Gordon remains. His removal would signal our intention that we are starting to address the underlying causes of the problems in the UK financial system.

Removal of Gordon is key to our future. The US have started their change whilst UK continues to limp on. 2010 is a long way off.

Doubting Richard said...

I hope that he is not the person he appeared to be from his history and his campaign. I would rather he had come to his political position by misrepresenting himself (his relationship with Ayers, his church, his relationship with corrupt Chicago politics and the Daley machine) than that he was the genuine corrupt, racist socialist that he appeared to be. The sort that won the support of the Communist Party of the USA, as well as many terrorists, anti-white racists and socialist totalitariaists of all kinds.

I always suspected this was the case, and his appointments so far seem to bear it out. It is a shame that we could not have had someone who was honest and open, willing to give answers to reasonable questions even when he had waffles as well.

Bill Quango

And hated in the USA too. Bush derrangement syndrome was widespread, based on myths and lies from the left-wing media (I know the American term, but I can't call them liberal, as they are anything but!).

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Nothing will change. If I looked as cool as Mr Obama, I would have a lot of temptation put my way in the trouser area.

Anyone like to bet he does not have sexual relations with some young intern?

Theo Spark said...

A Black Day for America. the media will support him no matter how bad he turns out to be.

Rush-is-Right said...

"If I were him I would issue a presidential order to close Guantanamo within hours of taking office."

And what would you do with the occupants Iain?


Unknown said...

he's a politician no more, no less. Until we stop believing in the Messiah complex of politicians and governments and start realising only individuals themselves make a difference we will continue to be disappointed. I wish him well but at best he is going to be the American Tony Blair at worst a second Jimmy Carter

not an economist said...

"But on this day of all days let's dwell on the optimism that Obama engenders, even in his opponents."

Why? I dont see the grounds for such optimism. All evidence points in the direction of him adopting a "spend, spend, spend" approach to the economic crisis. That way lies a currency crisis - yes a currency crisis in the dollar of all currencies despite its long history as the world's reserve currency - and a lengthy, protracted recession. The latter will occur for the same reasons the 1930's recession dragged on - i.e., because first Hoover and then FDR both refused to allow the market to adjust to the aftermath of the boom in the previous decade and insisted in interfering in the economy.

Hope for redemption from the coming economic catastrophe was there in the personage of Ron Paul. Unfortunately he fell victim to internal wrangling within the Republican Party and so never even got to be a candidate.

I would rather base my optimism for the future on the abilities, beliefs and policy pronouncements of the new president rather than sthg as fatuous as the person's skin colour which is all this idolatry of Barack seems to amount to.

DespairingLiberal said...

Yes, this is a key point and well said Iain - Blair totally wasted his first term and engaged in personal zeal missions with no political foundation in his second. He will go down in history as one of the most dilettante prime ministers, an almost 18th Century figure.

It is equally possible (and plausible presumably) that Cameron will be swept in on a similar wave in a couple of years time - so hopefully you can inject some caution into Tory thinking about this when that comes along Iain.

I am also hoping a bigger posse of Libdems get elected at the time to support Vince Cable, who should then become leader, to have a clear-headed voice of opposition.

p smith said...

Well let's just have some hope rather than engage in typical tribal politics that requires conservatives to wish failure upon liberals the world over and vice versa. That hope after all is the reason why thinking leftists visit your site Mr Dale.

My guess is that Obama is going to be very popular for most of his first term not least because he won't be blamed for the economic mess he has inherited and because irrespective of his actions, the economy will have started to recover in two years time.

More than that however Obama has a few low lying fruit to pluck. As you say, he can announce the closing down of Guantanamo and achieve that within 6 months. Likewise, he can withdraw US troops from Iraq within 18 months. Those acts alone will signal to the rest of the western world that America's voice should be heard and trusted again. With that goodwill it may even be possible to achieve some progress in the middle east although I won't go any further than that.

If he achieves those things that will do for me. We need a strong and trusted America and frankly I could care two hoots whether it is a Democrat or a Republican who delivers that.

Anonymous said...

I hope to hear as little as possible about Obama.

I fear I will be disappointed.

I expect all his fine rhetoric will amount to nothing.

We will be lucky if thats all it amounts to.

Unsworth said...

It's impossible for Obama to live up to expectations - when those expectations are so many and so great. The best he can do is be better than his predecessor (is that difficult?). If he does so there's a fair chance that he will be recognised as a good, if not great, President.

knock-knock said...

How long do you think it will take to remove the question of Obamas legal right to be President?. The court case grinds on ,see

DespairingLiberal said...

knock-knock, yawn, your site says Obama is not a natural-born US citizen. Yet the site has not been updated recently. Why? Because you lost your legal fight.

Presumably this was funded by one of Karl Rove's hate offshoots?

Keep on taking the extreme-right pills. I think you are on the wrong blog here though - you are talking to people with a brain.

JPT said...

This really is like Diana's funeral or the Nelson Mandela thing all over again.
Anything SO hyped just HAS to go bottom up.

Old Holborn said...

I suspect the BBC may just explode

Shaun said...

So far the Beeb coverage is grotesquely fawning - like a self-conscious version of Diana's wedding or funeral. Sky is less awful.

I have to watch as until I *see* that Dubya is gone, I won't be able to believe it.

As for the other points in the post...

I doubt if Obama will get assassinated (can you imagine the backlash against the US security services if they allowed that to happen?)

Two words: Yitzhak Rabin.

By a white redneck, I would wager.

There's an equally interesting rumour going round that the heirs to the Black Panthers have made it clear that they'll have a pop if they feel he's slightly Uncle Tomish.

And Theo...

A Black Day for America.

You're so wrong and yet, in a more literal context, so right. Though we don't really want to fall into the crap, US mode of identity politics, do we?

Anonymous said...

Blair with a tan ..methinks

loved going in ,will be absolutely loathed going out ...to much expected of him

Jess The Dog said...

As has been said already, Obama must use his mandate to the fullest extent as rapidly as possible, with some quick initiatives like the closure of Guantanamo and a real push in the Middle East – ditch Blair as envoy immediately! He is clearly a gifted and inspirational leader, with considerable intellect and humanity and a rhetorical gift to match that of Martin Luther King. As far from Bush as you can get.

Obama will get bogged down towards the end of the year and will inevitably disappoint some. The key is how he deals with this eventuality. If he deals with events and crises in the same way he dealt with the difficulties of campaigning, he will overcome short-term disappointments. Long term, all political careers end in failure, as Enoch Powell said. Obama is time-limited to two terms although there is the precedent for a third term. If he is smart (as he undoubtedly is) then he will get out quick once his time passes (as it does for everyone).

I look forward to him being the “last black president”. As soon as the novelty wears off, and he becomes plain old President Obama in a few months or a year, a massive change will have occurred – he will be defined as a man rather than by his colour, and that will permeate into wider society, hopefully in the wider world. That will be the real substance of his achievement. The change is one within the majority of the American people, as much the responsibility of non-black voters as for black voters, so Obama is not a “black president” as some may have imagined in the days of Jesse Jackson. There have been some thought-provoking comments from prominent US African-Americans which remind the rest of us that, although we may understand the history of racial divide, we do not have feel it every day. “Rosa Parks sat so King could walk so Obama could run, so we could all fly” is probably the best.

DespairingLiberal said...

You're wrong Tankus, he is far more of a heavyweight than Blair ever was. Blair was hardly even a proper politician. Obama has far more skill.

The real issues with Obama are which way he will go on some key policies, particularly Iraq, economy and the deficit.

I agree that some on the left will be disappointed with him though. So will some on the environment - there was already a hint in his inauguration speech that he favours biodiesel and as this is always a pork barrel issue in the States (cash to midwest farmers) it sets off suspicions that he will side with special interests when push comes to shove.

Jim Baxter said...

'finally an intellectual in the White House'

JFK once hosted a dinner at the White House for winners of the Nobel prize. Some fool asked, 'Was there ever so much brainpower gathered under this roof before? No, said Kennedy, except when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

OBC News said...

Obviously it wasn't going to happen, but it would have been hilarious if Obama had had a 'Redwood moment' during the anthem.

Chris Paul said...

Mike Law had it right in his first line. Another misery memo from miserable Mr Dale.

If you gave some arguments I'd be more interested. But this is just a glob of gut feelings. Misery gut feelings.

Anonymous said...

DespairingLiberal "you're wrong Tankus, he is far more of a heavyweight than Blair ever was. Blair was hardly even a proper politician. Obama has far more skill."
I truly hope that I'm wrong , but off hand I cant think of one politico that in the end.. utterly fails to meet expectations .

Mind you , he must have one of the worst presidential handovers ever !... best of luck to him

All Seeing Eye said...

Aaaah...assassinated...I get it now.

I thought he spent all that time behind bullet-proof glass because the Secret Service assumed that as he was black HE was likely to shoot someone.

Shaun said...

You're wrong Tankus, he is far more of a heavyweight than Blair ever was. Blair was hardly even a proper politician. Obama has far more skill.

You are forgetting your history. Blair was regarded as a heavyweight having made mincemeat of Dracula while Shadow Home Secretary. He was percieved as having, like Obama (and net-enabled campaigning), shaken up his Party's creaking machinery (an image he enhaced through the Clause 4 theatre). The difference, in so far as there is one, is that Blair actually had more front-line legislature experience than The One.

How anyone can watch this and not have a 'Things Can Only Get Better' 1997 Milbank flashback is on better drugs than I. And the NHS gives me some pretty good drugs...

DespairingLiberal said...

Whatever. Welcome to the 44th President of the United States, Barack H Obama from all the readers of Iain Dale's Diary!

Anonymous said...

Good grief...

When I stated that there is finally an intellectual in the White House, I was referring to recent years.

I am sure that, in years to come, if a comparison is made between Obama and many of the early presidents (Jefferson, Adams etc) he'll be seen as wanting (after all, they are hard acts to follow).

Personally, I'm none too happy about a Democrat in the Oval Office, but if he treats Brown with the contempt he deserves I'll give Obama the benefit of the doubt.

Yak40 said...


I don't know the truth about Obama's meeting the "birth" qualifications for the presidency as specified in the constitution.

However I do know that instead of simply producing a birth cert. he has fought every legal suit that was asking him to do just that. Why ? What's he hiding ?

As for potential assassins, why a white guy ? You mean like the DC snipers of a few years ago who were assumed to be disaffected white guys by the Mayor, media and Police Chief but who instead turned out to be a pair of black muslims ?

Anonymous said...

Good piece Iain. I broadly agree with your hopes and fears. THough I very much hope he steers clear of assassins!

I have written my thoughts here: http://richardwillisuk.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/president-obama-%e2%80%93-a-new-era-dawns

R E D said...

If he's assassinated, he's definitely be the wrong one to target...look for the one hiding in the "BUSH"...


Anonymous said...

Iain, once again you miss the moment. Obama's optimism heavily outweighs your pessimism.

Times have changed, for the better.

Anonymous said...

I can not stand to hear his (obama) voice, it is offensive to my rather deaf ears, and the sooner he is gone the better, it will not take the yanks to get as sick of him as it did the British to get sick of the blair tosser, he will be a dead loss, for obama read blair, all gas and no action, candy-floss, all pretty on the outside, but no substance.

Oscar Miller said...

There are two words that sum up why Blair hardly achieved anything in his first term:


And never forget Blair's achievements in Northern Ireland

As for Obama - I wish him luck. He will most certainly need it.

Alex said...

I'll make a confession. I don't watch TV. I didn't "get" Blair and I don't "get" Obama. He doesn't seem to have any firm ideas, and having read some of his books I don't really see what his policies are (or no more than Blair's 3rd Way).

He sounds more honest than Blair though.

DocRichard said...

We most certainly DO have to spend our way out of a recession, but success depends on exactly what it is you spend it on. Government could pour squillions into boosting the manufacture of Kirby grips, but this would not work, as there is no longer a demand for Kirby grips. On the other hand, there will always be a demand for clean energy, and so investment in energy conservation, renewables, and a super-grid is clearly the way to go.

scott redding said...

re: Obama being too short termist. I think the electoral danger for Obama is the oppositte. His agenda is to be long-termist. He's proposing changes (energy independence, broadband, slow but steady attempts at peace/clean water/arms control) that won't be achieved in 2 years. That might hurt him if the recession is still full bore for the 2010 Congressional elections.