Ten years on, we need to rekindle the hope and optimism of Obama’s inauguration

Ten years ago, I watched, full of hope and optimism, as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th US President.

I didn’t get to concentrate on his speech as our hamster, Powder Puff, became ill and passed away at the critical moment. For that she will never be forgotten.

The speech itself was a turning away from the divisive politics of the Bush years.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation. But in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

There were two parts that have stayed with me. The first was a very clear message to the world:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

And that restatement of the values that would underpin his presidency:

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

I loved the inclusion of curiosity in that list – an open-minded quest to learn more, to explore.

We need to get back to this way of doing things. And we need to learn about how we can do it better.

When you look at the steps forward Obama made on climate change, how he managed to avoid a depression at a time of global financial crisis, how he persevered with health care where others had failed, how he made progress in relation with Iran and Cuba, how he stood up for equal marriage and inclusion, how he struggled for years with a Republican Congress determined to block the progress to which he was committed, he is easily the best President of my lifetime. What he achieved was remarkable by any standards. He was maybe too hesitant in foreign policy at times but understandably so given the failed Bush intervention in Iraq. He maybe wasn’t able to do enough to help those people who had been hit hardest by the financial crash. However, it is worth noting that at the end of his Presidency, 3 million more people voted for the Democrat who tried to succeed him than for his successor.

Looking back, we were incredibly lucky to have him. He governed with calmness, wisdom and principle. How did we go from this to a successor who throws a strop on Twitter every time something happens that he doesn’t like.

Nostalgia seems to be a bit of a thing at the moment. If you have an hour and a half to spare, take yourself back to 2009 and enjoy.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Guantanamo Bay is still open – shame on you, Obama.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Jan '19 - 11:41am

    Yes, @alan, and the extra judicial killings always made me feel uneasy.

  • Michael Bukola 20th Jan '19 - 11:59am

    The 20th January is my birthday so Obama’s inauguration will always stand out in my memory. America electing its first African American as its President represented a definitive moment of social change in Western society. The inaugration, to a young black activist like myself from South East London, was like calling card, with the core message being “Yes we can”. The event inspired me to seek public office myself and was duly elected as a Liberal Democrat ward councillor the following year in Bermondsey. These defining moments, Obama, the falling of the Berlin Wall, Macron, are important to remember and hold on to in order to enable ourselves to inspire others. I will never stop believing. Thank you Obama.

  • Richard Underhill 20th Jan '19 - 12:14pm

    A fake news factory had been trying to persuade at least some of the electorate of the USA that Obama was a Muslim, based only on his middle name and ignoring his work with Christian charities in Chicago. Tribal attitudes in one powerful group had made unity impossible
    Since the presidency of Eisenhower the USA had been a net importer of oil from the middle east. Alternative policies such as persuading motorists to use smaller cars, etc, had not been persuasive. Obama took a constructive message on climate change, which Donald Trump (not to be confused with Judd Trump) has never done.
    US Democrats, led by Pelosi, have offered to help pay for a wall on the Mexican border to the extent of one US dollar.
    Donald should offer to pay for the remainder himself and allow innocent federal employees and pensioners to be paid their due.

  • John Marriott 20th Jan '19 - 12:43pm

    You know, I had a similar feeling when the Berlin Wall came down, and even (shoot me if you wish) following the Downing Street garden ‘love in’ nearly nine years ago. Why is it that, just when we think that common sense is about to prevail and the world is finally starting to make real progress, something comes along to ruin it? To be honest, it’s usually man made.
    @Richard Underhill
    As far as Americans driving smaller cars, as someone, who drove a Mazda 1800 along the Los Angeles freeway during rush hour back in 1971, I can assure him that most of the cars back than make the ones today look like Dinky toys (remember them?).

  • Innocent Bystander 20th Jan '19 - 12:44pm

    Obviously a real focal point of love and devotion. To have inspired such admiration and affection over their lifetime, is worthy of praise indeed.
    I refer, of course, to Powder Puff the hamster, who achieved more than Obama did in eight years as President of the United States.

  • Joseph Bourke 20th Jan '19 - 1:18pm

    Jimmy Carter presidency was seen as something of a failure. However, much of his best achievements were as an International Statesman, after he was free of the burden of political office. Obama entered the whitehouse amid fears of a 1930s style great depression and dealt with it competentlyand effectively. The great tragedies of his presidency were the senseless mass shootings at schools and colleges throughout the US. I have a feeling that, like Jiimy Carter, we will hear more from Obama in the years ahead, quite possibly aroud the issue of gun control.

  • Steve Trevethan 20th Jan ’19 – 1:55pm…………Libya?……….

    Exactly! Blair/Bush are rightly vilified for their Iraq disaster but the Cameron/Obama love in seems to have been forgotten.
    With the terrible legacy of Iraq still fresh, whatever possessed these two to imagine things would be any different when removing another ME dictator?
    We, as a party come out with little credit. After opposing Iraq, when in opposition, we supported another ME war and also supported Obama’s planned bombing of Syria (thankfully Labour backed by Tory rebels put a stop to that).

    All in all, Obama’s tenure is hardly the stuff of legend!

  • Peter Martin 20th Jan '19 - 9:31pm

    He wasn’t perfect, but I’d say Obama did pretty well on the whole. He did what he could with Obamacare.

    His main achievement was to not get dragged into the usual ‘we must balance the books’ austerity economics type nonsense. Although some of the things he said didn’t match up with the expansionist Keynesian economics the USA actually practised, which enabled a good recovery from the 2008 crash. The US economy pulled the rest of the world along. If he’d adopted a Germanic ordoliberal austerian approach, we’d all be in deep something or other by now!

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