What does OBAMA spell backwards?
So far as I can tell, the whole population of Berkeley is going to vote for Obama. Even I start to long for a McCain bumper sticker or poster, just as a reminder that Obama still has an election to win. When we’re accosted by the nice girls in the street, asking if we are going to vote for him, we assure them that we would if we had a vote. But we also feel like suggesting that they move to some part of the country where they might have more impact than in safe liberal Berkeley.
That said, you do get a different sense of things from the television. We channel hopped between CNN and Fox News for the Democratic Convention, to get a better flavour of what was going on – and a better flavour of the opposition.
All this is quite different from seeing the carefully chosen headlines on the BBC – which miss out the preliminaries, the razzmatazz, and the supporting acts. So I hadn’t ever realised before quite how pushy all the “top nation” , “God bless America” talk was. I know that it’s easy for the British – who are palpably not “top nation” -- to talk more modestly about their role on the world stage. But I’d been slow in seeing that even the most liberal Democrats here have to thunder on as if American values were clearly superior to anything else on the planet (is this how the British sounded a century ago, I found myself reflecting).
The “God bless . . .” line takes a bit of getting used to as well. Maybe political conferences in Britain start every session with communal prayers – but, if so, I’ve never noticed and I don’t honestly think they do.
As for the kids all over the place (from Obama’s own, to Joe Biden’s grandchildren -- and now Sarah Palin’s plentiful brood), it makes one grateful for how little we (yet) see of the junior Browns and Camerons. Though, as one of my friends here pointed out, these kids here are doing the job that the young royals get handsomely recompensed to do in the UK.
For a classicist though, the big question of the week was the classical backdrop against which Obama spoke…was he trying to be a Greek or a Roman?
The Republicans had good fun accusing him of hubris (well not exactly in so many words), and I was fearing that we were in for a load of sanctimonious platitudes about Greek democracy -- or Roman constitutionalism.
Luckily the fears were groundless.
It eventually emerged that the backdrop may well have been meant to be reminiscent not of ancient architecture as such but of the Lincoln Memorial – so linking Obama’s ‘I have a Plan’ speech to Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a Dream’,itself delivered at the Lincoln Memorial. If so, the speech was a poor second best. Despite the almost universal admiration for the performance (so universal that I guess I must be wrong about being decidedly underwhelmed), I wasn’t sure that Obama’s desire to track down Osama in his cave was much more sophisticated as a foreign policy goal than what he intends to replace.
Perhaps even more likely the whole set was simply intended to evoke the classical setting of Washington, getting us used to linking Obama to the architecture and symbols of American power.
But if the backdrop was only classical in that very general way – and not a loaded reference to the Parthenon or some famous Roman monument, there still remains something resonantly classical about Senator Obama’s name.
And not just the Senator bit.
I’m sure people must have spotted this before, but it was the Regius Professor of Greek, no less, who pointed it out to me just before we left for America. What, he asked, does OBAMA spell backwards?
AMABO, of course: ‘I shall love’, in Latin.
How's that for a slogan to trump McCain?