Richard Lutz ponders Obama’s post-White House life following his final State of the Union speech
Let’s start with a sidebar.
If you watched highlights of Obama’s last annual address to Congress this week, you would have seen a man sitting to the right of the screen with a poker face. Yes, he does look a bit like tennis star Novak Djokovic. And yes, as he later admitted, he was there to resemble wallpaper in the august surroundings.
He is Paul Ryan, the new Republican Speaker of the House.
And though he looked pretty opaque and muted in the televised address, even he later admitted that one or two things struck him.
And one that it was time to stamp down on Trump’s more lurid pronouncements after Obama alluded to them.
In an interview with the newspaper USA Today, Ryan admitted that the Republican billionaire’s scattergun thoughts were simply a bad idea. ‘Putting a religious test on anybody coming to this country is wrong. We ought to have a security test. Not a religious test.” Ryan said.
Taking on board that the Wisconsin senator is pretty dry in his politics tastes, it takes some doing to basically slap down a high profile bully like Trump who may, just may, lead the Republicans come the November vote..
And though Ryan did go on to say he thought Obama took a cheap partisan shot at the whacko Republican race (he thought it ‘degrades the presidency’), at least he had the decency to question Trump and what he stands for.
It is an intriguing comment from Ryan. He is also chair of the Republican National Convention come this summer and knows he just may have to ultimately greet Trump as the Grand Old Party’s leader if polls are anything to go by.
Ryan aside, what many other commentators heard in Obama’s speech was a big sweeping upbeat message that hit a lot of high notes.
The president, in my opinion, is the best person to live in The White House for the past half century. He is the most honest, the toughest and a politician that understands the US best. He has fought against racist invective (including garbage from Trump) and rumour, hasn’t put a foot wrong in his personal life, took on the major battle over health reform and has been inclusive enough, in his first term, to invite party rival Hillary Clinton to become his first globe trotting representative as Secretary of State.
He grasps that, internationally, the balance of power is changing; there is little need to use knee-jerk expressions like ‘the special relationship’ when he talks about `Britain..a Britain, by the way, that just might vote to leave the EU sometime soon. And he knows that places like China and India must be acknowledged as major economic forces. Plus, he understands that ISIS has to be confronted.
But I like his domestic concerns. Many presidents use international politics, with its high profile glean, to mask local worries. And after jobs, jobs, jobs, the Big Concern is this appalling gun issue.
FIVE DAYS, 125 DEATHS
More than 13,000 deaths were caused by guns in 2015 in the States. And already in the first five days of this new year, there have been 125 US fatalities as a result of shootings. Let me repeat that: five days, 125 killings.
My belief is that Obama, when he waves good bye to The Beltway, will become a focus for gun reform. It will become a cause and he will roll up his sleeves and get down and dirty rather than fade into gilded obscurity like Bush Jnr, LBJ, Bush Snr, Clinton and the ill Reagan.
Watch this space. The gun issue is a catalyst for bitter confrontation in a fractured America: between those who hark back to some 150 year old 18th century idea of protecting your kith and kin, now monumentally outdated, and those who just don’t want to live in a culture where it seems within a normal debate to ask teachers to be armed.
It takes in a bewildering array of American sectors: the rural vote with its hunting culture, city gangs, cops bristling with weaponry, deranged young white men, the right wing which uses antiquated elements of the Constitution to support its ideas, the marginalised outcasts in their Idaho shacks who want no government control in their lives, even the suburbs which are frightened enough to equip their homes with alarming weaponry.
Obama will take on this big divisive issue. Maybe to the annoyance of the next President, whether a Democrat or a Republican, whether Clinton or Trump.