Sometimes, you need to go away to keep your love alive. Perhaps it's the change of air. Perhaps it's the change of view. Perhaps it's just the chance to stop and pause. Who knows what it is that melts away the doubts, and the disappointment? But when I gazed at my beloved, at Lake Garda last weekend, I realized that, in spite of everything, my love still burned bright.
Hey, it's true, he looked tired. He's cut back on the jokes now. He's cut back on the smiles. But when he stepped out, in my hotel room, or perhaps I should say on the giant flat-screen telly in my hotel room, I felt a stirring that wasn't like the flicker of excitement you have on an early date, when fantasies blaze, and hopes soar. What I felt was something calmer, but also stronger: the sense that I, or perhaps the 65 million Americans who voted on my behalf, had chosen well.
Barack Obama, it has to be said, looked quite stern. But you probably should look a bit stern when you're announcing the start of something that will put the lives of some of your citizens at serious risk, and will almost certainly lead to the deaths of innocent men and women. You probably should look a bit stern when you're spending millions of taxpayers' dollars at a time when many of the people who paid the taxes don't have jobs. And when you don't actually have a clue where it's going to lead.
Obama, like every other person on the face of this planet, doesn't know if bombing certain targets in Tripoli, and Benghazi, and Misrata, is going to get rid of Muammar Gaddafi, or if it's just going to strengthen his resolve. He doesn't know if the bombs will just destroy machinery, and kill soldiers, or if they're going to kill men and women who are used as human shields. He doesn't know if the so-called rebels, who said they didn't want international help, and then that they did, but might change their minds again, and who are mostly about as experienced in using AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades as I am, will be able to stand up against a trained army, and highly paid mercenaries, and massive supplies of arms that the West sold them, and now wishes it hadn't. He doesn't know if this is the kind of military action that can be done quite quickly and cleanly, or if, like most military action, and even military action that looks as though it can be done quickly and cleanly, it can't.
It is, presumably, because he doesn't know these things that he took a while to weigh them up. He may have thought, like David Cameron, that a "no-fly zone" sounded like a good idea, but he probably also thought you didn't get one just by telling the people who would have flown there that they shouldn't. He may have thought that what you had to do to stop people flying there may have been too risky, or too complicated, or too likely to lead to things you couldn't control, to be worth doing. This may be why, when he said he had decided to take action to impose one, he didn't sound like a hero who was going to save people from a terrible situation, and who expected a round of applause. He sounded like a man who had had to make a very, very difficult decision. And who knew that you couldn't know whether some decisions were right or wrong, but that you just had to live with the consequences of the one you'd made.
He also sounded like a man who knew that everyone was saying that he'd been dithering, but who thought that there were more important things in life than whether people thought you were dithering. He sounded like a man who knew that, whatever people said about him, and however much the Right might think he was a socialist who was trying to destroy the country, and however much the Left might think he was someone who had promised the sun, the moon and the stars and delivered instead a country that was in the grip of a massive economic crisis, there were certain things that had happened since he'd become president that had made the world better.
He might, for instance, have been thinking about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first Act he signed when he became president, and which offered basic protections against pay discrimination for women and older workers. He might have been thinking about the healthcare reform bill, which he passed a year ago, and which meant that 32 million Americans who didn't, in the world's richest nation, have access to a doctor, now did. Or the START treaty he signed with President Dmitry Medvedev, which cut, and committed both countries to continue to cut, the world's stock of nuclear weapons. He might also have been thinking of the $798bn economic stimulus plan he launched in 2009, which almost undoubtedly saved America from greater economic disaster, or the Wall Street reform bill he passed last summer, which aimed to protect ordinary Americans from abusive financial practices, and taxpayers from future bailouts, and which represented a victory over some of the most powerful lobbying forces in the land. He might have been thinking of the fact that he created more private sector jobs last year than George W. Bush did in eight years.
The 44th President of the United States, and first black leader of the Western world, who has, arguably, done more for the majority of Americans than any president since Roosevelt, and who has been careful to send out the message that America is no longer seeking swashbuckling adventures on the world stage, and who has done more for gay rights than any president in history, may well have been thinking that politics is a difficult, and complicated, and stressful business, and that it means you have to make impossible choices, while working with people you don't like, and whose political views you abhor. And that the results are unlikely to set people cheering, because people tend not to look at politicians who are in office, and cheer.
I'm not sure that when I see Obama, I want to cheer. I want, instead, to say that in the very imperfect world we live in, with the vested, and opposing, interests that make any kind of change a compromise, this thoughtful, pragmatic and sometimes irritating politician is probably as good as it gets.
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