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