I'm not sure how or whether the newly inaugurated President Obama of the USA is going to affect my knitting, quilting or spinning (although did you see that John McCain joined Ravelry!) but I do know that the decisions that he and his administration make across the pond will affect what our current and future governments do here, and because of that it will affect my daily life (and possibly my yarn budget if we're talking about the economy).
I watched the inauguration ceremony yesterday, being a sucker for a good bit of pomp and circumstance, and listened to Obama's address to his nation. He is certainly a fluent orator and while I don't necessarily agree with all of his policies and viewpoints (for one, my faith and personal moral code cannot condone the death penalty under any circumstances), it is with a huge sigh of relief that I listened to an American President who appears to have not only intelligence but also a fair modicum of common sense, and the two do not always go together.
He seemed realistic to the current world and domestic situation both in terms of the economy and the current military entanglements, and wasn't promising a quick fix, something our own politicians would do well to emulate. What was rather entertaining for a politician from a party which traditionally falls to the left of centre was the focus on the ideals of self responsibility as well as government responsibility - echoes of JFK I know, but in the UK, traditionally conservative ideology.
Whilst our voting system is different so that the majority of the UK population don't actually vote for the Prime Minister (and he or she usually sits in a tremendously safe seat), I quite fancy seeing Gordon Brown or David Cameron or whoever give a public address on their first day in power - it could be rather interesting. We're due a general election within the next year and a bit, so watch and see what impact the Obama election campaign style has on our lot!
What Obama has achieved in his campaign style, and in the start and mere existence of his presidency, is to give hope of a better future. It is a wonderful thing that a country with a history of institutional racism and apartheid has elected to its highest office a man who not too long ago would have been considered persona non grata.
The only fly in the ointment for me is the American commentators who insist on bolstering all of this by declaring that this could only ever happen in the US, never in Europe or the rest of the world. And apart from making me splutter over my cornflakes this morning, that sort of comment makes me want to jump up and shout; hang on a minute, please don't forget:
- Elizabeth I : 7 September 1533 - 24 March 1603 (ruled from 17 November 1558). Defeated the Spanish Armada and provided desperately needed religious stability during her 44 year reign.
- Victoria: 24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901 (ruled from 20 June 1837). Regardless of current views on imperialism as a woman of her time she oversaw the founding of an empire which covered a quarter of the globe.
- Benjamin Disraeli: 21 December 1804 – 19 April 1881. Served in British government for three decades, twice as Prime Minister and whilst professing himself an Anglican he was unashamedly of Jewish heritage.
- Dadabhai Naoroji: 1892 - elected as the first Asian British MP
- Constance Markewicz: elected as a British MP in 1918 (she was part of Sinn Fein and did not take her seat)
- Nancy Astor: 19 May 1879 - 2 May 1964. The first female British MP to take her seat on 1 December 1919.
- Margaret Thatcher: Leader of the Conservative party from 1975 to 1990 and Prime Minister 4 May 1979 to 19 November 1990. Love her or hate her or something in between it is 18 years since she left office and her name still provokes a powerful reaction.
- 1987: Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, Bernie Grant: First black MPs
And from the rest of the world let's try Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Angela Merkel of Germany and Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan.
They may not always have been great, or even good; but they were firsts.
None of this takes away from what Obama has achieved, nor is it meant to. I am fortunate to live in a country which professes religious and racial acceptance (don't get me started on the true meaning of the word tolerance!), and which has never had overt state-condoned racism. I don't suggest that both religious and ethnic racism is not alive in the UK, to do so would be consciously naive; all I will say for my country is that I devoutly hope that if we were presented with candidates of the calibre and quality recently presented to the American people, and the option for change, I think we would make the right decision. So a little hint to the commentators; to tell your nearest and dearest allies that they could never do what you have done is not exactly going to endear you to them!
On a lighter note, there were two really special moments of the whole ceremony for me; firstly the chap in uniform who with great ceremony and all the theatrical fa-la-las he could muster, carefully put in place a little step box for the two little girls to stand on so that they could see and be seen; and secondly, when Aretha Franklin stepped up to the microphone in a wonderful hat ..... and sang a song to the British National Anthem.