Christina Patterson: Why, in spite of everything, I still love Barack Obama

The Saturday Column

Saturday 26 March 2011 01:00

Sometimes, you need to go away to keep your love alive. Perhaps it's the change of air. Perhaps it's the change of view. Perhaps it's just the chance to stop and pause. Who knows what it is that melts away the doubts, and the disappointment? But when I gazed at my beloved, at Lake Garda last weekend, I realised that, in spite of everything, my love still burned bright.

He, it's true, looked tired. He's cut back on the jokes now. He's cut back on the smiles. But when he stepped out, in my hotel room, or perhaps I should say on the giant flat-screen telly in my hotel room, I felt a stirring that wasn't like the flicker of excitement you have on an early date, when fantasies blaze, and hopes soar. What I felt was something calmer, but also stronger: the sense that I, or perhaps the 65 million Americans who voted on my behalf, had chosen well.

Barack Obama, it has to be said, looked quite stern. But you probably should look a bit stern when you're announcing the start of something that will put the lives of some of your citizens at serious risk, and will almost certainly lead to the deaths of innocent men and women. You probably should look a bit stern when you're spending millions of taxpayers' dollars at a time when many of the people who paid the taxes don't have jobs. And when you don't actually have a clue where it's going to lead.

Obama, like every other person on the face of this planet, doesn't know if bombing certain targets in Tripoli, and Benghazi, and Misrata, is going to get rid of Muammar Gaddafi, or if it's just going to strengthen his resolve. He doesn't know if the bombs will just destroy machinery, and kill soldiers, or if they're going to kill men and women who are used as human shields. He doesn't know if the so-called rebels, who said they didn't want international help, and then that they did, but might change their minds again, and who are mostly about as experienced in using AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades as I am, will be able to stand up against a trained army, and highly paid mercenaries, and massive supplies of arms that the West sold them, and now wishes it hadn't. He doesn't know if this is the kind of military action that can be done quite quickly and cleanly, or if, like most military action, and even military action that looks as though it can be done quickly and cleanly, it can't.

It is, presumably, because he doesn't know these things that he took a while to weigh them up. He may have thought, like David Cameron, that a "no-fly zone" sounded like a good idea, but he probably also thought you didn't get one just by telling the people who would have flown there that they shouldn't. He may have thought that what you had to do to stop people flying there may have been too risky, or too complicated, or too likely to lead to things you couldn't control, to be worth doing. This may be why, when he said he had decided to take action to impose one, he didn't sound like a hero who was going to save people from a terrible situation, and who expected a round of applause. He sounded like a man who had had to make a very, very difficult decision. And who knew that you couldn't know whether some decisions were right or wrong, but that you just had to live with the consequences of the one you'd made.

He also sounded like a man who knew that everyone was saying that he'd been dithering, but who thought that there were more important things in life than whether people thought you were dithering. He sounded like a man who knew that, whatever people said about him, and however much the Right might think he was a socialist who was trying to destroy the country, and however much the Left might think he was someone who had promised the sun, the moon and the stars and delivered instead a country that was in the grip of a massive economic crisis, there were certain things that had happened since he'd become President that had made the world better.

He might, for instance, have been thinking about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first Act he signed when he became President, and which offered basic protections against pay discrimination for women and older workers. He might have been thinking about the healthcare reform bill, which he passed a year ago, and which meant that 32 million Americans who didn't, in the world's richest nation, have access to a doctor, now did. Or the Start treaty he signed with President Dmitry Medvedev, which cut, and committed both countries to continue to cut, the world's stock of nuclear weapons. He might also have been thinking of the $798bn economic stimulus plan he launched in 2009, which almost undoubtedly saved America from greater economic disaster, or the Wall Street reform bill he passed last summer, which aimed to protect ordinary Americans from abusive financial practices, and taxpayers from future bailouts, and which represented a victory over some of the most powerful lobbying forces in the land. He might have been thinking of the fact that he created more private sector jobs last year than George W Bush did in eight years.

The 44th President of the United States, and first black leader of the Western world, who has, arguably, done more for the majority of Americans than any president since Roosevelt, and who has been careful to send out the message that America is no longer seeking swashbuckling adventures on the world stage, and who has done more for gay rights than any president in history, may well have been thinking that politics is a difficult, and complicated, and stressful business, and that it means you have to make impossible choices, while working with people you don't like, and whose political views you abhor. And that the results are unlikely to set people cheering, because people tend not to look at politicians who are in office, and cheer.

I'm not sure that when I see Obama, I want to cheer. I want, instead, to say that in the very imperfect world we live in, with the vested, and opposing, interests that make any kind of change a compromise, this thoughtful, pragmatic and sometimes irritating politician is probably as good as it gets.

MPs are much more fun when they are off guard

In the week of a Budget that proved rather low on theatre, apart from a tiny tickle in a throat, and a delicate cough that triggered thoughts of dying divas in garrets, the most entertaining moments were the ones that weren't planned. First, there was Ken Clarke's power nap. I know politicians aren't allowed to say that someone who's asleep in the House is asleep, perhaps because they think it's rude to sleep, or perhaps because they think it's rude to say that someone's asleep, but I think it's lovely that a senior politician should feel so relaxed with his colleagues. And particularly that a former Chancellor of the Exchequer should feel so relaxed during a speech – the most important of the year, in fact – given by one of his successors.

It reminded me of the time I invited a boyfriend to a poetry reading I was introducing, and he not only nodded off, but started snoring, and then woke up with a great juddering shriek. Which, I have to admit, was slightly more relaxing for him than for me.

And then, the day after the Budget, there was Nick Clegg's microphone.You'd have thought that politicians might, in their classes about how to nod and boo and tell jokes that somebody else has written, learn how to unclip a microphone, but it looks as though they don't. Very unfortunately, Nick Clegg wasn't heard saying that a bigoted woman was a bigot. He was heard saying that he thought it would be difficult, before the next TV debates, to find things to disagree about with David Cameron. I'm not at all sure how relaxed Lib Dems will be when they hear that.

Another splendid wonder of the universe

There seems to have been a bit of a fuss that a handsome young man (well, OK, a man a tiny bit younger than our Prime Minister) has been allowed to present a television series on science. A lot of male scientists seem to think that this is a terrible violation of the laws of nature, and so does a female journalist on another paper who's married to a not-very-handsome politician.

Certainly, it does appear to challenge the third law of thermodynamics, which says that female presenters must look as though they could moonlight as models, while male presenters can look like the "before" pictures in ads for eye-bag surgery and hair transplants. But the universe, as the very gorgeous, and very compelling Brian Cox could tell us, is full of wonders.

How can it not be a good thing for a physicist with the enthusiasm of a baby spaniel, the eyes of a baby deer and a throbbing great brain that seems well able to cope with the conundrum of quasers and quarks, to be improving the really rather scanty scientific knowledge of the nation? "There is," said Professor Cox, when attempting to grapple with the mysteries of our genesis, "complex chemistry happening here". To which one can only say, while feeling rather flustered and matronly, "indeed".

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in