Saturday, May 29, 2010

Where the **** have you been?

'The president, in my view, continues to govern in a way that suggests he is chronically detached from the central and immediate concerns of his countrymen. This is a terrible thing to see in a political figure, and a startling thing in one who won so handily and shrewdly in 2008. But he has not, almost from the day he was inaugurated, been in sync with the center. The heart of the country is thinking each day about A, B and C, and he is thinking about X, Y and Z. They're in one reality, he's in another.'

During the 2008 election, I studied Barack Obama, as did most other sane individuals. I tried to suss out what kind of man he was. And what struck me, as someone who has lived as a foreigner in the United States, was that Obama was a foreigner. During my stay in the US, I often bumped into things in American life which were obviously deeply meaningful to those around me, but which to me seemed like nothing. As a consequence of my bad form, it was not hard for me to get a good feel for just how profoundly Americans value themselves, their culture and their folkways. For all his basketball playing and burger eating (has anybody got any Grey Poupon?) Obama is not really American. Being American is much more than a birth certificate or a passport.

It is one of the reasons I don't live there. Americans don't tend to like people who are not 'with the program', and I am just too ornery, contrary and sceptical to sign up to Americanhood. Therefore, I have a unique insight into the special situation Obama is in. He is, in my view, less than half American. I don't mean biologically. I mean in the sense of all the strands of thought, feeling, belief, association, belonging and sympathy which go to make up a persons rightness in a particular land, among a particular people.

Where would Obama rightfully fit? Perhaps nowhere. Certainly not Indonesia, certainly not Kenya. But not really America either.

And that is becoming a big problem. In the crazy busy job of President, instinct becomes the best friend of efficiency. Instinct informs you what is important, and what is trivial- what really requires your attention, and what can be left to underlings. But Obamas instincts are terrible. His instincts about what is important are totally out of sync with the nation. So, back to Peggy...

What I don't understand is this: I am no genius. Ask my wife. So how was I able to figure out what Obama was, and what he was like in mid-2008, but it has taken 75% of Americans until about yesterday to do so?

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