Mark & Steve – Barack Obama

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Mark and Steve talk about their impressions of Barack Obama and the recent inauguration ceremonies in the United States. Image courtesy of Allison Harger.

Mark: Hello and welcome back to the EnglishLingQ podcast.

Mark here joined by Steve.

Steve: Hello there.

Mark: Today we thought we’d talk a little bit about the recent inauguration of Barack Obama or Obama, if you prefer, and what it might affect in the future.

I know, myself, I didn’t actually watch his inauguration.

Did you see the inauguration?

Steve: I have to admit…one evening I turned on and they were dancing; lots of show business personalities singing songs that all sound the same to me and I don’t like that.

It was kind of a nice touch that President Obama and his wife were dancing on the floor; it’s kind of like getting close to people.

Then a bunch of middle-aged pudgy people got on the dance floor and didn’t look quite as elegant as Barack Obama and his wife, who looked quite nice dancing.

I didn’t listen to the speech, but I’ve heard parts of it.

I heard the Russian translation because I listen to Ekho Moskvy my Russian radio station and they gave sort of a simultaneous interpretation with him speaking, so I heard him and I heard the Russian.

Then they had other programs where they dissected the speech, so I’m quite familiar with what’s in the speech.

But, I must admit, I didn’t sit through it other than as a part of my Russian language learning exercises.

Mark: I have to admit that I was amazed at the pomp and the number of people that went to Washington to watch or to take part.

Steve: It’s interesting, though, that there are people saying that in fact there weren’t 1.8 million people there were only one million people or 800,000 or something.

Mark: Oh, is that right.

Steve: But who knows.

Mark: Even still…

Steve: Yeah, even though.

It’s a huge number and apparently with like 15 below zero centigrade, so it was a cold day.

I mean there’s no question in my mind that there is tremendous symbolic significance to the fact that Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States.

Mark: Oh, absolutely.

Not just that, but, obviously…what are you rattling around over there?

Steve: Sorry, I moved. I just closed the door here.

Mark: Oh.

Steve: Okay; alright.

Mark: I’m just amazed and it’s just because there’s quite a contrast between the States and Canada, which I’m obviously more familiar with.

But, you know, if there’s a new Prime Minister there is no inauguration, at least that I’m familiar with; I guess he gets sworn in.

I can’t imagine anyone goes to watch.

It’s sort of a non-issue where in the States the President is a much bigger deal for them and I guess it’s the Head of State…whatever.

Steve: Well, exactly, it’s both Head of State and Head of Government.

Mark: Yeah, but…

Steve: And he is elected with direct suffrage, direct vote, right, whereas in Canada the Prime Minister is simply the Head, the leader of the winning party.

Mark: Okay, but that’s in theory.

Steve: Right.

Mark: In theory, yeah, but in effect both systems work the same way.

Most Canadians, when they vote, vote for the leader.

Most Canadians, in their mind, are thinking they’re voting for the Head of State.

Steve: You don’t necessarily…yeah, I don’t necessarily…

Mark: I mean not many Canadians think, gee, the Queen is our Head of State.

I mean I don’t think that…that’s not…most people think, in the U.S.

and in Canada, that you’re voting for the leader of your country.

Steve: In the United States you are voting…

Mark: In the United States it’s a big deal and here it’s much less of a deal.

Steve: No, no.

In the United States you’re voting directly for the President and you have a separate opportunity to vote for your Congressmen and Senators.

Mark: Yeah, that may be…

Steve: And in Canada…no, no, okay, I’m just telling you.

In Canada a lot of people — and I have been involved in more elections than you — are very much influenced by the quality of their local representative, so that influences it.

Whereas in the United States people who may be long-term Democrats and who may even vote for a Democratic Congressman may vote for a Republican President or vice-versa, so that there’s far more focus on the position.

And, of course, certainly internationally, the position of the President of the United States in much more important, a significant order of magnitude more important, than the Prime Minister of Canada.

Mark: That goes without saying.

But my point is that one million people or whatever the number was went to his inauguration.

If there was a similar type event here in Canada for our Prime Minister, even if our Prime Minister doesn’t carry much weight internationally, is not voted for directly, all those reasons you just mentioned, there wouldn’t be 100 people that would show up for that.

Steve: No, no, no, but, I mean, okay, different ceremonies; the whole procedures down there are different in the inauguration of the President.

I mean the fact that the President is elected on…whenever it is…the 14th of November and doesn’t take office until the 20th of January or whatever…I mean the whole thing is different; there’s no comparing the two.

But there were far, far, more people this time than ever before and that comes back to this whole idea of symbolism.

A number of things; first of all, the fact that George Bush was so unpopular so that his support was down to 20% and the perception that George Bush had made the Americans unpopular internationally, so people were looking for someone who would represent hope.

Then you’ve got the crisis and stuff like this and I think to a lot of Americans — because they have had this history of race problems going right back to slavery and the Civil War and Civil Rights Movements, particularly in the South, and difficulties that Blacks have had and so forth — this represents, to many people, the symbolism of saying, okay, we have resolved these difficulties; even if they haven’t entirely.

It represents hope, it represents that kind of symbolism not only for Afro-Americans, but for all Americans; not for all, but for many who supported Obama.

So I think there’s a lot of excitement specific to this President, but even in previous inaugurations there were a lot of people there.

So you make a good point, in Canada we don’t make as big a deal out of it, yeah.

Mark: I mean to the average American the President is a much bigger deal than the Prime Minister is to the average Canadian.

Steve: Right.

Part of it is, even though you pooh-pooh it…now there’s a word that people are going to have to look up in their dictionaries…the fact that he is the Head of State and that there is no one above the President, not even symbolically or, you know, in some kind of ceremonial way.

Whereas in Canada there is that other one institution, so it’s a little different.

But I think we should move on from that subject to what is the significance of, first of all, Barack Obama the man.

I must say that when I first heard him speak I was a little bit…you know I had the impression that he’s a very good speaker, but he came across as a little bit insincere.

Maybe that’s because I’m a little bit skeptical about people who are very good speakers, a la Bill Clinton, but I have become more and more persuaded that he’s very capable, because he ran a very capable campaign, because he was able to get good people around him, because he ran a modern campaign, he used the Internet effectively, he’s not yet a member of LingQ, but we’re working on it, so he’s modern, he’s with it, he’s efficient.

That’s the way he came across in his campaign and, hopefully…now I’m not necessarily going to agree ideologically with everything he does, but if he can be efficient, capable and work well with people, those are very, very, important qualities.

Mark: Yeah, for sure.

And, you know, I mean when I see him…you know giving a speech is one thing.

Obviously he’s very good at giving speeches and sounds good, speaks well, presents well, but, also, I saw an interview he gave on TV and I can’t remember with who he was speaking, but I mean he just comes off good; I was impressed.

I was impressed on maybe not necessarily politically-related questions; just, in general, he came off as genuine, which you don’t always get from politicians.

Like Bill Clinton, I never found he sounded very genuine.

Steve: No.

He was very clever.

Mark: Right.

Steve: You came away very impressed with how clever Bill Clinton was, but not necessarily that he was very sincere.

Mark: Now George Bush, actually, I thought was sincere too, but he’s not so clever.

Steve: George Bush was…I think he was sincere, but you always had the impression with George Bush that he was always so excited and just wound up as tight as could be.

Mark: Yeah.

Steve: Whereas Obama exudes a certain, you know, calmness…

Mark: Yeah, he does.

Steve: …and he communicates so naturally.

He has his opinions and there are going to be moments when he’s going to bite; I mean he’s not going to be sweetness to everyone.

I notice that there was an article in the paper where Obama had agreed to authorize U.S.

Government financial support for eight organizations that also are involved in abortions, okay; whereas, under Bush and his group that was not allowed.

Mark: Right.

Steve: You couldn’t support any organization that was in any way involved with abortions.

So Obama did this and, of course, immediately some of the conservative church leaders and others complained.

He apparently said, look, we won the election, now let’s get on with it, you know, it’s our agenda now.

So, on the one hand, he’s saying he wants to work with the Republicans and work with different people, but on certain issues he’s going to say, no, this is our policy and this is what we’re going to do.

So I think we’re going to start to see a bit of a sharper edge from time to time from Obama, but he does have a nicer manner.

Mark: Well you’d hope that there are some issues that he would put his stamp on.

I mean I’m sure that you wouldn’t expect anything less.

Steve: No.

Mark: I mean it will be interesting.

Obviously there’s a tremendous amount of optimism everywhere, all over the world, with him coming in, especially coming on the heels of Bush who was not, obviously, very popular.

So, I guess time will tell, but so far he looks pretty good.

Steve: It’s interesting what people get out of these speeches.

He made the comment that it’s a wonderful thing that here he is President of the United States and I think he said, possibly, my father 60 years ago or my grandfather, I don’t know, would not have been served at a restaurant here in the United States.

I was speaking to another one of our learners in another country and he thought that Obama said that 16 years ago I was not served in a restaurant.

Well, no, no, that’s not quite what happened.

I think there has been a tremendous movement on the whole issue of race relations in the United States and I think we should give credit to George Bush, because George Bush was the first person to appoint Black people to very, very, senior…like Secretary of State for Foreign Relations or whatever.

I mean Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, these are people appointed by Bush.

Between that and the tremendous unpopularity of Bush, I think both of those things may have contributed, in no small way, to Obama being the first Black President of the United States.

And he’s not Black after all, like why is he Black?

He’s half White, half Black, why would we call him Black anyway?

Mark: Actually, we were talking the other day about how Val Eckley in Japan uploaded the Obama speech to the Library and what a great opportunity for our English learners to be able to study English from that speech.

I mean it’s obviously timely and hopefully of interest to a lot of people, so we were saying, boy, it’d be great if we had content like that in all languages.

Steve: I’ve got to say, since you mentioned it, first of all, thanks to Val who probably doesn’t listen to EnglishLingQ.

One of our learners is learning Japanese and French and she lives in Japan where she teaches English and she went in and took the speech and divided it up into two-to-three minute segments.

So it’s very easy to study in LingQ and I very much encourage anyone listening to go to our Library and you can then go through the speech one segment at a time; she divided it into seven or eight segments.

Thank you very much.

I should point out that Val is not the only one, we have wonderful members.

You know Serge has loaded up a series on wine for our French area, Emma keeps on putting up her “What is Emma Doing Now?” in Japanese and of course Vera who’s done a phenomenal job in German and I know that I’m…

Mark: Maryann, in French, has done a lot.

Steve: Yeah, so, yeah.

Mark: I mean, in French, I essentially stick with the content that our members have created.

It’s just a lot more work to go and find something else, which is not necessarily any better.

Steve: I know who I was going to mention, Rasana, who is my Russian tutor, has found some wonderful podcasts, Russian podcasts, relatively short, on a variety of subjects, very pleasant to listen to.

One of them calls itself Poetree ( and there’s a little bit of musical background and he talks about different subjects, so many thanks.

And that’s the model, hopefully, that we’ll get more and more people who are finding wonderful and interesting content on a variety of subjects so that we can go in there and listen and read and link…and LingQ them.

Mark: Absolutely and hopefully our podcasts help out a little bit there too.

Hopefully people enjoy them and, of course, if there are ever any topics that you’d like us to discuss, we’d be more than happy to hear about them.

Steve: I should point out, if I can while I think of it, that our Spanish podcasts I think have been quite popular and we now have one of our Japanese learners, who has been a learner of English, who is using them essentially to start from scratch; that’s how much he likes them.

So, yeah, there’s a certain dynamic there, let’s hope it continues.

Mark: Well, with that, I think we’ll probably wrap things up.

Steve: Yeah.

We didn’t get too far with Mr. Obama.

We can talk about him again or whatever else people want to talk about.

Mark: Yep. Okay, we’ll talk to you again next time.

Steve: Okay, thanks, bye-bye.

Mark: Bye.

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