Tuesday, February 05, 2008


It's politics, Jim, but not as we know it - Barack Obama's "Yes We Can"

I came across this video today. It's a rousing, inspirational clip setting a speech by Barack Obama to music. All those celebrities, actors and musicians are very fervently, earnestly, reciting a political speech. Obama's delivery has definite echoes of preaching (notice I say preaching, rather than the British equivalent, giving a sermon.) This is a uniquely American artifact: no other country would make this without sending it up somehow (I have no doubt that some YouTubers are creating parody versions as I write...)

I have to admit, my reactions are mixed. On the one hand he's discussing an epic narrative, a nation's journey, and it is stirring stuff emotionally. On the other hand ... this is a politician, people! Not the President or Prime Minister, just someone currently in Opposition. Can you imagine this reaction to one of David Cameron's speeches? Or indeed, to any speech by a British politician?

We Brits are perhaps too cynical. I admit that parts of the video are slightly toe-curling (well, anyone who closes their eyes as they warble, shaking their head and staring off into the middle distance has me narrowing my eyes and retreating to a safe distance) but isn't this a fascinating outpouring?

I'm reminded of my reactionary A-Level History teacher, who for two years endeavoured to get us to think analytically about the history of the United States. We looked at the idealistic plans of the white settlers, the twists and turns of the colonies gradually becoming a country, and the way the language of idealism and manifest destiny would be used to justify horrific policies. What would the Founding Fathers think? We discussed Bill Clinton's potential impeachment desultorily, with detached interest: for most of us, I think, America was an exciting place we hoped to visit some day.

During uni I went to live in America on an academic exchange programme. I graduated. I travelled, living in many different places. I came to realise that the news I read and watched and heard was overwhelmingly influenced by the decisions of the US government. After these interminable Bush years - like the Howard era in Australia, or the endless corrupt Tories here in England - anything would be an improvement.

I'm dedicating this post to Mr Davies, wherever he is now. I didn't understand all the points he made at the time, but I've often thought back to our debates. It has to be uniquely American to create something like this - about politics!

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