Watching Obama at a rally on TV today, an inexplicable wave of understanding swept over me.
‘Oh my god’, I thought, ‘He’s Tony Blair!’
I don’t know where this thought came from – I’ll admit it was purely gut instinct.
When I started thinking about it, though, I realised it isn’t so far fetched. Consider the evidence –
A moribund, deeply unpopular government, racked by sleaze allegations in power (George W. Bush/ The Conservative Party).
A new, inspiring leader emerges onto the national political scene in the space of just a few years. He’s relatively young and good looking (for a politician), with an ear-to-ear grin, and for the first time people have hope that things can be better.
He makes great speeches (Hope! Yes, We Can!/ Education, Education, Education), but the policies are rather thin on the ground.
Obama is often compared to Kennedy, but JFK was shot before he could disappoint anyone. That’s why he could remain a symbol of hope and optimism in popular culture. Blair might be a better point of comparison with Obama, because in his case we know how the story of hope ended.
Ten years ago, crowds used to cheer for Tony Blair, and reach out in the hope of shaking his hand. Now, after numerous broken promises, and a bloody war in Iraq, the UK is glad to be rid of him, and active campaigns are in motion to prevent him becoming EU President.
I don’t want to write Obama off; I hope he is everything that he appears to be.
However, even if he does have the potential to change America for the better, he should be wary of setting himself up for failure by raising hopes to such a fever pitch. Blair recently admitted that his government had no hope of meeting the high expectations raised in 1997, and a British Prime Minister has much more personal power than an American President can ever hope to wield, given the fragmented nature of the US political system.
So, I guess my point is: don’t trust politicians. Hardly revolutionary, but in the midst of the Obama whirlwind, perhaps worth remembering.