Obama: time to put away childish things

I’m not a big lover of large events. Crowds: no, don’t like them. Football matches, too many people. Being at home on the laptop: yes, much better!

Also, fanfare and big-time media hype sets my teeth on edge. Guess where this is going …

Okay, I have to fess up: Obama’s inauguration love-in has done me in. I need to go away and spend time at a special meditation retreat in Herefordshire where a friend of mine goes: no talking for a whole week! 

But, this is a personal taste thing. I’m also about as likely to attend a “musical event” featuring Bono, Beyonce and Bruce (Springsteen not Forsyth) as I am to drive a set of four-inch nails into my head for fun. By contrast, an Amnesty colleague has gone to Washington specifically to soak up the inaugural atmosphere. Blimey! Read his blog (it puts my Brit stand-offishness to shame).

But even a churl like me realises that having Barack Obama as a president and not a certain George W Bush is a massive change. So, it’s time to put away childish things …

I’ve been banging the drum for human rights at Amnesty right through the Bush years – bashing out the first press release on Guantánamo in January 2002 (mis-spelling Guantánamo I seem to remember!), getting my head around “extraordinary rendition” (when was rendition extraordinary and when was it just plain rendition?) and meanwhile, strangely enough, resisting the temptation to mock Bush’s malapropisms. It was surely never a matter of judging a president’s way with words

Obama is a master of words – but so are many successful politicians (Blair to name but one). Being good at oratory – in the Martin Luther King/Jesse Jackson style – is one thing, but after today stirring speeches with little content are going to be less use. Because, it’s not about rhetoric it’s about policy. It’s the policies stupid!

In all the acres of recent comment on the Bush years these two quotes in the FT caught my eye. Strode Talbott of the Brookings Institution: “Bush leaves no architecture, no institutions, no treaties and no respect for the international rule of law. His unintended legacy may be for America to turn back to those institutions and try to revitalise them after the aberrations of the last eight years.” And James Lindsay, a Texas University politics professor: “I can summarise Bush’s legacy in two words: Barack Obama.”

Barack the antidote? We can but hope (“for a better day”) when it comes to human rights. So, let’s cheer on Obama if he wipes the human rights slate clean. Check out the recent Amnesty viral (where a superhero Obama creates a meteor shield and Capt Jean-Luc Picard talks about human rights!) and please support Amnesty’s 100 days campaign.

Now I need to have a lie down.

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