Barack Obama’s speech to the Houses of Commons and Lords yesterday was mind-numbingly dull. Perhaps that isn’t surprising if you’ve been following him more closely than I have; my interest in politics comes and goes, usually as the tension in my own life increases or decreases as a result of forces completely unrelated to national or international affairs. The last full speech of Obama’s that I heard, actually, was the famous “Yes We Can” speech he made just before he became President. That was almost a miracle of inspirational rhetoric. Perhaps his speeches have been losing their lustre for a long time as he faces up to the grim reality of having to deliver on his promises. But yesterday he sounded flatter than a squashed carcass on the A43 road to Kettering.
The highlight of the speech, according to the radio, was the moment when he hauled out the increasingly dreary chestnut about his being the grandson of a Kenyan farmer or leather belt manufacturer or British Army van driver (whatever it was that his grandfather did), and how his current position as President of the United States proves how remarkable American democracy can be. Undoubtedly he’s right. But somehow the continual restating of the fact of his ancestry manages not only to patronise his grandfather, but also to provide all the wrong people with all the tools they need to continue to marginalise the millions from ethnic minorities who will be lucky if they can live on the same street as a white person one day without being accused of taking over the neighbourhood. The gales of applause he received from the assembled politicians and unelected gentry for reminding them about his ancestry yet again were hideously embarrassing for precisely that reason. Although some of the crowd may have been clapping just to keep themselves awake for long enough to make it to the end of the great rhetorician’s speech.
Rejoicing in the killing of enemies of war. Drinking Guinness in an Irish Bar for the cameras of the world. Serving hamburgers to war veterans with David Cameron. Selling your own heritage like a manufacturer of t-shirts. To paraphrase the last great hope of democracy Hunter S. Thompson, how low do you have to stoop to be President of the United States?