Last night I hurried home from work to listen to the first presidential debate, ‘Mitt’ (now there’s a name! How many English men do you know called Mitt?), Romney and President Obama, one to one in a debate.
I remember the excitement of the last presidential campaign, exactly four years ago; it was such an exciting and thrilling time. It was the first time I’d heard the name Barack Obama; he was this young, dynamic and not too shabby looking black man that was taking the US by storm. We adopted his slogan of ‘Yes We Can’ for the 4th Breaking Through (now Inclusion) Annual conference and when I put his picture up on the screen the audience went wild, clapping and cheering. We were so excited, amazed and hopeful. It seemed inconceivable that he would win, but win he did. Could the US with its history of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow laws be ready in only 50 years after the civil rights movement to elect a black man to the most powerful and prestigious office in the land? The rest is history because we know that he was elected on a wave of good will and huge, probably unrealistic, expectation.
So what has happened in the four years since he came to office? The world had been and still is in a deep recession, brought on by the banks and their profligacy. There is still the dreadful war in Afghanistan, not of his making, but something alongside other issues he’s had to deal with. He then dared to take on the powerful healthcare and insurance companies here with his health bill, ‘Obamacare’ the opposition snidely call it. He has had to struggle to get anything done with many republicans openly stating, ‘anyone but Obama’. The Americans have a very different system to ours, which by comparison is quite straight forward. They have a senate, congress and a house of representatives as well as the president himself. There are only two main parties, the democrats (labour) and the Republicans (conservatives) if you are interested in how the American political system works follow this link. Be warned, it is seriously complicated: http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/Americanpoliticalsystem.html
Anyway, my point is that I settled down to listen to the debate as I knew from experience that Barack Obama is a great orator, a really motivational and inspirational speaker. Cup of tea in hand and feet up I looked forward to seeing Barack back at his best.
Now here’s the thing, I was waiting for Barack to land a knockout blow (metaphorically) on Mr Romney, particularly after he questioned our ability to put on a successful Olympic games, the cheek! To my consternation and great distress the knockout blow never came. Barack was not at his best and I suspect Romney sensed it and went into overdrive, therefore he appeared better prepared and had better responses than the President. You can imagine the press here this morning, they were salivating with excitement, and at last they have a race for the White House to report on. It was believed, prior to the debate, that this election would be close but now it looks as though it will be close and no one is sure who will win. How different it feels to 4 years ago. I remember being in Atlanta in 2008 and the excitement about real and sustainable change was tangible. It has made me think about the absolute burden of being president; it must feel very much like carrying the weight of the whole world’s expectations on your shoulders with people from all sides pulling you down with their needs and demands. Making decisions about issues that will affect the lives of 360 million people doesn’t, I should imagine, make for sleeping easy in your bed. Is it any wonder that after four years in the white House he’s tired? Who wouldn’t be, he’s a human being. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be President, sometimes I feel the weight of expectation on me as a manager in the NHS and that’s hard enough. Let’s all stop and think for a minute about those people in positions of authority that are in the public eye. We might not like all of them or some of the decisions they make, however you’ll have to agree most do it out of a belief that they can make changes to society that will improve people’s lives. Not all politicians are going to get it right and the impact of some of their decisions are hard to bear but like most things in life it’s easier to criticise and to comment than to put yourself in the firing line to be shot down, particularly if things don’t go so well.
Barack, you have two more debates left before Election Day, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and go for it. You have nothing to lose.
These views are my own and not the collective views of anyone at the NHS Leadership Academy or the NHS.