Sunday, February 11, 2007


Never have the words 'Presidential Hopeful' seemed so apposite. Obama Barack is all over the news. Yesterday he made a speech that has just made my voice catch, when I was reading it out loud to J. It made me well up because it is so full of hope. It has made me want to write about politics again for the first time in a month.

Here it is in full.

I have quoted parts of it in italics in this post.

Let me begin by saying thanks to all you who've traveled, from far and wide,
to brave the cold today.
We all made this journey for a reason. It's humbling, but in my heart I know you didn't come here just for me, you came here because you believe in what this country can be.

In the face of war, you believe there can be peace. In the face of despair, you believe there can be hope. In the face of a politics that's shut you out, that's told you to settle, that's divided us for too long, you believe we can be one people, reaching for what's possible, building that more perfect union...

Obama's speech, ringing with hopefulness, really hit home. Recently I felt I was losing faith in politics, that all politicians seemed to lie and all political parties seemed the same as each other, as bad as each other, doing anything, saying anything to have and to hold power. I admit my own faults; in my own small way, I am part of the problem. I have kicked frustratedly and hard in this blog at the present Government, and the one that preceeded it. I have mocked and sneered and complained, bitterly and frequently. I have enjoyed the cynical bitching and the tittle-tattle and the sniping, in the papers, on blogs, on political TV programmes, in the pub. I have welcomed the opportunity to blog and to vent and to rant and to release my anger, and I have enjoyed reading other people's righteous rage too. It has been cathartic. I did it because I was angry enough to care, and because anger is an energy, and angry energy is better than sullen silence and isolating, corruscating despair.

...I came to understand that our cherished rights of liberty and equality
depend on the active participation of an awakened electorate...

But now I am sick of all this negativity. I know there is a UK political blog war going on at the moment about 'netiquette' and lies and spin and deceit, and I have not wanted to join in. I don't care if politicians or journalists or bloggers or whoever were trouble-makers or drug-users in their teens, or if they behaved foolishly when they were students - hell, that's what the young and foolish do - and I was, and still am, silly at times myself. What I care about, passionately, is that they stand for something now, and that they are honest about what they stand for. I may not agree with them - but I want to respect them. And I want to respect myself.

I have stopped wanting to write on this blog for the last few weeks because it was starting to feel like a chore, and because I was fed up of feeling exposed, and sick of the sniping attacks, and of feeling like I had to 'take sides'. I don't think blogging is about taking sides. It's not a licence to bully and abuse and attack, either. Blogging allows the free expression of many voices, and what a shame if this great tool becomes a cacophony, a sound and a fury signifying nothing, and some of us turn inwards and attack each other, when there is so much else to say - political, personal, big, small, whatever - and so many passionate, and talented and clever, and funny people who enjoy blogging; writing for free, writing for the sheer joy of it.

It was here, in Springfield, where North, South, East and West come
together that I was reminded of the essential decency of the American people
- where I came to believe that through this decency, we can build a more
hopeful America.

It was here we learned to disagree without being disagreeable - that it's possible to compromise so long as you know those principles that can never be compromised; and that so long as we're willing to listen to each other, we can assume the best in people instead of the worst.

Owch. I am tired and fed up of the current culture of spin and lie, of obfuscation and denial and blame-shifting, of gossip and carefully chosen weasel words that is UK politics at the moment. Whether it is the Government initially denying the existence of a tape showing the death by 'friendly fire' of a UK soldier, or the clamping down on the proper inquiry into BAE Arms sold to Saudi Arabia, or cash for honours, or fewer nurses and beds in hospitals somehow being justified as some doublethink evidence of 'NHS success', it is all damnably toxic because it is corroding our democracy, eroding our trust and killing hopefulness. There have been too many cover-ups and falsehoods.

Nobody seems to believe a thing anyone says anymore or take anything at face value. And I am as bad as anyone else. It is assumed that almost everything is a lie or a deceit or a conspiracy. Anyone saying or writing anything has an 'agenda' that must be exposed. I think this kills any sense of hope and engagement. And without hope, where do we go? Nowhere but backwards and downwards into alientation, apathy, anger and despair.

I want a more hopeful America, and I would like a more hopeful Britain too. I want renewal. And no, for me personally, that doesn't necessarily mean I want a change of Government. It goes deeper than that; I want a change in governing. And a change in governance, in the way that we are governed.

The genius of our founders is that they designed a system of government
that can be changed. And we should take heart, because we've changed this
country before...

And not only in America has history shown change and renewal and political evolution, frequently being driven by plain ordinary people - which can include bloggers - as well as visionaries and writers and leaders and politicians.

Democracy is meant to represent the will of the people. All that you need for a working democracy is for the people to have a will to go somewhere together. If there is nothing but cynicism and apathy, then where is our will gone? We get the leaders, (and the leader writers, and the bloggers) we deserve, don't we?

Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what's
needed to be done. Today we are called once more - and it is time for our
generation to answer that call.

For that is our unyielding faith - that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.

The man is right. And in this information age, where words can travel at the speed of thought, and ideas gather dizzying reach and momentum through instant and open exchange, people publishing and debating and engaging with each other freely, for all to see and read, we have more tools to shape and change things, so we get the politics we want, than ever before.

Politics and political debate in this country is no longer the preserve of wealthy white men in their exclusive clubs, whether in Westminster or Fleet St. It's something anyone can get involved in. Single issue or broad platform, whatever fires you up, there are more ways of being heard, holding politicians to account or finding like-minded others to get active with than ever before.

We know the challenges. We've heard them. We've talked about them for years.
What's stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound
policies and sensible plans. What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the
smallness of our politics - the ease with which we're distracted by the petty
and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for
scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a
working consensus to tackle big problems.

All we need is a sense of compassion and decency, realism and willingness to listen, and a stakehold in our shared humanity and our shared future. Not to be afraid of speaking out, not to have our collective and individual will sapped by cynicism and in-fighting about trivial things. Just to have some hope.

I want my hope back. This has felt like a long and bleak winter, but spring is coming. I have felt excitement and optimism returning today, as I read the words of a politician. An American politician, but it's a start.

oops, edited to say thanks Kate, I tagged it wrong...

Labels: , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont want to be rude, but good grief!

Moved by a politician's speech? How many hours by him, and more likely professional advisors, went into it? It looks like just more carefully crafted, skillfully flattering, essentially meaningless words that buy votes.

"Democracy is meant to represent the will of the people" Amen to that, but "having the will to go somewhere together?" No, it is exactly what you said in the first sentence, government providing the sort of society that the people want. It should at least be connected with the dictionary definition, about our laws being decided by our elected representatives, not by self interested men who troop through the lobbies as directed rather than compromise their careers.

People get the government they deserve? A platitude, Explain it. What are they expected to do, all give up their lives and careers and run as MPs themselves? Would you have an entire nation of politicians living in caves? Does it occur to the you that the bitching and the criticism is actually useful? Had it not been for all those papers and blogs would the opposition be now quite so frightened of any suggestion of spin?

A sense of compassion and decency and willingness to listen? What we need above all is some sense of reality, an ability to work with the world and with human nature as it is, to only make policies and laws after proper assessment and with a reasonable expectation they might actually work.

February 11, 2007 5:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be careful with the charismatic thing.

Kennedy stood for the Bay of Pigs, confrontation with the USSR (he turned down detente proposal before the Cuban thing), a massive arms build up, using the CIA as a para-military force to overthrow a numner of governments he didn't like. Oh, and sending 100,000 advisers to Vietnam. The kind who wear green and cary guns. Cabinet papers revealed that he only went with civil rights beacause he thought it was a vote winner... it only went as far as it did becaue Johnson actually believed and pushed it far harder.

Think George Bush, but with better PR.

Mind you, people love Che. I mean what could you find wrong with shooting 14 year olds? They must have been counter revolutionaries or something

The Anon

February 11, 2007 5:06 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Oh for heaven's sake. This is exactly what I mean. Cynicism, cynicism, more spynicism. Where was I talking about Kennedy? Or Che? I am not. I am looking at the words of a politician who seems to be doing something different and saying something different.

I am also alluding in the post to what I see as the immense negativity and infighting currently doing the rounds in UK political blogging, being slightly obtuse about it because I am trying to make a broader point about hope vs. cynicism, rather than get into specifics of who said what to who and who is right and who is wrong and who is being rude and unfairest to whom on the blogs.

That Obama speech was a breath of fresh air, and it reminded me that politics and caring about politics doesn't have to be a carnival of negativity and bitching.

If people - political bloggers, I mean, really - do nothing but moan on at each other mistrustfully, then the politicians will say there's no point in engaging and the spinmeisters and lobbyists get to influence policy and we are all the poorer for it.

Being political doesn't necessarily mean being a politician.

February 11, 2007 5:13 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

1. xoggoth -' It looks like just more carefully crafted, skillfully flattering, essentially meaningless words that buy votes....'

RN. It looks to me like a speech that was different, powerful and moving. I'm sure he spent ages on it, just as Shakespare spent probably spent ages writing the Agincourt address.

2.xoggoth '...government providing the sort of society that the people want'.

RN. We provide the society: we *are* society. It's up to all of us to make it what we want: legislation and taxation do not make society what it is.

3. xoggoth'People get the government they deserve? A platitude, Explain it. What are they expected to do, all give up their lives and careers and run as MPs themselves? Would you have an entire nation of politicians living in caves?'

People do not have to be politicians to be interested in politics. If people are carried along on a wave of media hysteria and bigotry the Government will start to play to the gallery on that, and we lose out. If people don't bother to vote, or don't care about politics, or are purely suspicious and dismissive, we lose out. I don't know what you mean about 'caves', moving on...

4. xoggoth' Does it occur to you that the bitching and the criticism is actually useful? Had it not been for all those papers and blogs would the opposition be now quite so frightened of any suggestion of spin? '

RN. I've criticised and bitched myself for the last 18 months on this blog! I am all for honest debate and rigorous opposition, I am all for investigative reporting and holding to account, debate and engagement and criticism that is not what I am slating. I am slating the over-prevalence of nihilistic cynicism that I have admitted has infected me and my blog as much as anyone else's, to the extent that I only noticed how bad it was when I read a political speech that was hopeful, instead of point-scoring or self-justifying or attacking.

5. 'What we need above all is some sense of reality, an ability to work with the world and with human nature as it is, to only make policies and laws after proper assessment and with a reasonable expectation they might actually work'.

RN. Agreed, far too much of the legislation Blair's lot passes is cynical and headline driven. A sense of reality includes a sense of hope. It is just as unrealistic to be consistently negative as it is to be full of wild optimism with no grounding in common sense and awareness of the lessons of history.

I make no apologies for wanting more renewal and a sense of hope rather than hopelessness in politics.

I hope that makes it clearer, xoggoth

February 11, 2007 5:32 pm  
Blogger Davide Simonetti said...

Well all I can say is "hear hear!"

I'll add that I admire the sentiment. It's so easy to collapse into cynicism isn't it? I think it is refreshing to hear a positive message from a politician, and even if it does turn out to be rhetoric, if it can inspire and move the rest of us then surely that's a good thing.

Lovely post!

February 12, 2007 12:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The current "blog war" is essentially a storm in a tea cup. Just wait until we have a General Election breathing down our necks, then you'll see just how nasty political blogger can and will get.

As for Obama, he's still a politician and one seeking power. My view is that anyone who wants power should be regarded with healthy skepticism. That's not cynicism that's just reality speaking...

February 12, 2007 12:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Other people have probably pointed this out already - but you made the CNN mistake and tagged this post OSAMA instead of OBAMA. Great post apart from that...right now I'm wishing I was american so I could vote for him.

February 12, 2007 1:01 pm  
Blogger kris said...

I am attracted to much of Obama says, it reminds me of the days of Bobby Kennedy, MLK, even Clinton when first elected (and what a relief THAT was)-

but, and this is a big but, the last time the US elected a nice guy was Bush Jr.

I think Obama would be great in a pre-9-11 world. I don't see how he would successfullt manoever us out of the war. Setting a date for the house of cards to fall seems insane.

February 12, 2007 2:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He has absolutely no chance of getting through the primaries, let alone being elected by the American people. Wait for the negative campaigning from the Clinton camp to really get going( they've got extremely good history at this you'll remember). This is going to get very dirty indeed.

February 13, 2007 11:04 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, the thinking in Illinois these days is that Obama is the genuine article, not just another ambitious politico empty suit. Sure his speeches are scripted. But that comeback to the Autralian PM's nasty remark was not--and a great jab it was, too.
Will Obama win the Democratic nomination for US President? Way too soon to tell. But already he is out front on the big issue, Iraq. And, on the other side of the aisle, the Republicans are looking all the worse by comparison.

February 13, 2007 1:29 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home