Barrack Obama came along at a time when my cynicism towards mainstream politicians was at an all time high. From Thatcher/Reagan who were there at my political awakening through to Blair/Bush junior I've not seen too many leaders that deserve any respect. Weirdly Gordon Brown who is a folk devil to most people is probably the one I hate the least.
Obama has been in all our consciousnesses for a long time now. The first time I really heard him speak was when I was on holiday in Canada back in Spring 2008. As is my habit I was watching local TV in the hotel room and they were covering the race for the Democratic Party Presidential Candidate. At the time it was pretty much between Obama and Hillary Clinton. Obama was speaking principally about his proposed health care reforms and it was so refreshing to hear somebody, in his position, speaking about concerns that affect normal people and actually seeming to care about the people further down the social ladder.
I knew in my heart that it would all have to be diluted if he was to get into power but still it was a refreshing contrast to Bush's promotion of the privileged and Blair's courting of the rich and feckless.
I was on holiday (again!) in Paris when the news came through that Obama had been elected. I must admit that I never thought it would happen. After the fiasco that saw Bush junior elected in 2000 I was convinced that darker forces would prevail.
Back in the States in Autumn (or Fall as the Americans would have it) 2010 all that optimism and hope seem like a distant memory now. Obama appears beleaguered from all sides. On the left he's been accused of been a sell out and a patsy for big business whilst the right wingers accuse him of been a communist and a secret Muslim.
I have a sliver of sympathy for the left's view but what did they expect? The United States is a conservative country by nature and to get any progressive liberal policies through involves massive compromises and dilution. In addition Obama inherited a bad economic position which was made even worse by Bush's tax cuts for his rich friends. In fact on the economic side Obama's not made a bad fist of it keeping the economy going. His universal healthcare plan has also been implemented. Unfortunately he's had to compromise and keep the grasping healthcare insurance companies onside which has compromised it all. Still at least he's tried. You have to go back to Jimmy Carter to find the last president to actually at least give a damn about the less well off.
The right's opposition seems to be centred around something called 'the Tea Party'. Which is a reference to the 'Boston Tea Party' a symbolic event which was I believe was a precursor to the American War of Independence (I'm a bit hazy on all this). This is loose conglomerate of diverse forces all unhappy about having a democrat in the White house. The cheer leaders for this are various media forces - Rupert Murdoch's Fox news been prominent amongst them.
In much the same way as Rupert Murdoch's stable of papers drives public opinion in the UK - immigrants are stealing our jobs; workshy people are dole queue millionaires etc. - his US TV channel Fox and others of their ilk are allowed to bad mouth Obama and peddle their own agenda. With most of the major telly channels and newspapers having an obvious right wing bias (they didn't make their money by supporting liberal causes and helping poor people) it leaves very little scope for Obama and his supporters to fight their corner.
The 'Tea Party' itself is an interesting construct. On the face of it its all about normal people who are as mad as hell coming out fighting. They are unhappy about the state of the country, job losses, house repossessions, small businesses closing etc. Quite right as well.
However if you take a look at the people pulling the strings and chucking money into 'the Tea Party' you'll see its a bunch of very wealthy individuals with their own agenda. These people are taking advantage of the current situation in the States to try to change things for their own ends. They talk about getting rid of big government, removing red tape and cutting taxes. What they mean is cutting red tape such as worker's rights and workplace safety. That way they can get on with making money which of course they don't want to be taxed.
Obama's healthcare bill was the case in point. It was unpopular with the companies involved in the 'Health Industry' who feared they would lose out and the employers who feared they would have to pay more money out on behalf of their workers. They couldn't say this though so instead they concocted a horror story of state interference and forced abortions. Comparisons with Nazi Germany and Stalin's Russia were common. As well as plenty of badmouthing of the British NHS.
Interestingly the Tea Party have pushed forward several photogenic women to be their (more acceptable) public face. Principally Sarah Palin but also Christine O'Donnell. These women are ambitious and determined. They are also pretty callow and come across as not particularly intelligent. Whether this is because the Tea Party's case is so difficult to defend or simply because they are pretty dumb is not immediately obvious to me.
At the moment I think the Tea Party represents a minority of opinion in the States, albeit a substantial minority. There is a lot of money and influence behind them though and I worry they will win by default much as the Tories in UK did due to people's antipathy to the government. To use a cliche I fear that the turkeys might come out and vote for Christmas.