One hundred days lived in parallel

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Everybody and their grandmother is already writing about Barack Obama’s first 100 days as president, so I thought I’d take a different tack: to compare his with mine (last, of course, not first) and see what happens.

Obviously we are not comparing apples with apples here. He wakes up every morning with the weight of the world on his shoulders and I merely have to decide between cereal and toast. Still, we both played golf on Saturday, which is a starting point in common.

Our travels bear comparison. He went to a cold continent and warmed the cockles of sceptical European hearts. I went to a warm one and at least lined the pockets of South African vintners. He observed old democracies struggling with recession and I saw a young one coming to terms, with reservations, about its inevitable choice of a president.

He also went off to a tropical island, Trinidad, and charmed the pants off hoary Latino ideologues who thought America was the enemy. I went to the frigid Rockies and found ancient American lefties still enamoured with him, if less with me. I have never visited a wind turbine factory in Newtown, Iowa, as he did, but I have been to the same site when it produced Maytag washing machines (and lots of registered voters).

On most of the last 100 days, he has been accused of socialism by Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. Sometimes the more over-emotional rightwing brethren also call him a fascist, which is a variation on the historical theme when, in conservative demonology, socialism was right next to communism on the road to perdition, along with fluoride in the drinking water.

Again, we share the same badge of honour. Just last week, a letter published in this very newspaper called me a “knee-jerk socialist” for daring to cast nasturtiums over the “tea parties” organised to protest against his economic policies. The writer lived in Sugar Land, Texas, which used to be represented in Congress by Tom “the Hammer” DeLay. Enough said.

As for the vegetables, as Margaret Thatcher once described her cabinet ministers, Michelle Obama has planted an organic garden in the White House, much to the annoyance of the fertiliser industry. Mine takes on the poison ivy in the country mano a mano but sprays the Roundup with abandon in town, hopefully not leaching into the water supply at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue just over a mile away.

His Chicago sports teams are pretty useless these days, but mine in Washington, now also his, are, if anything, worse, leaving us in the same miserable boat. The exception is the ice hockey Capitals, who are mostly Russian anyway, possibly explaining his warmer relations with Moscow.

He earned about ten times more than we did last year, before he became president, but that seems fair because he writes better than either of us. He talks better, too, and in more complete sentences, though I could teach him a bit about comic timing.

He has had to abandon his personal Ford hybrid car in favour of armour-plated limousines capable of stopping an anti-tank missile. I sometimes dicker about trading in our two nine-year-old foreign ones, both with bits falling off and rust setting in, for something new, but they have also proved remarkably resistant to the street missiles and potholes of Washington DC.

Of course, he is also trying to rescue, or restructure, or whatever, the hapless American automobile industry. Parked on my street as I write, are five Toyotas, four Hondas, two Mercs, two Subarus, an Audi, a VW, a Land Rover and a workman’s truck battered beyond recognition of origin, which indicates he has a way to go, or not, if you think about it. Reflecting this, what looked like a Pontiac just drove away, but Pontiac will soon be an ex-model.

His economy is now the national (and international) one and he says he sees the green shoots of recovery, though that optimism comes with plenty of caveats. Mine is minuscule and the only green shoots I see are the weeds that have escaped the Roundup, with no bail-outs coming my way.

He is intent of instilling sense into a healthcare industry that delivers a lot less than it thinks it does. That is fine by me, so long as Medicare is not cut to ribbons by the time I graduate to it.

But, all in all, I do not feel bad about my state, which is precisely, and amazingly given the objective circumstances, what most Americans appear to feel. That is a remarkable turnaround over the last 100 days – a tribute, in my humble opinion, to having a functioning articulate intelligence in the White House (actually two, given that Michelle’s poll ratings are even higher than his).

This is not set in stone, as everybody’s grandmother is already writing and pontificating. Mind you, if Dick Cheney, not to mention Newt Gingrich, keeps emerging from the bunker or quail hollow to demand a return to the good old days of torture, rendition and a wiretap on every phone, feeling better about the future could last a lot longer than 100 days.

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