There is a famous line somewhere about how travelers automatically compare every place they visit to their home city or country. If this is usually a sign of a limited worldview, in my case it was actually warranted! Having reached New Delhi late Saturday night and spent some of Sunday walking around the city, I hopped into a taxi to see if Indian cab drivers talk the way they do in Thomas Friedman columns. No luck. But I did have a conversation with a man outside of the Taj Hotel which reminded me of home. It seems that the conventional wisdom of American pundits has reached India. Ron Fournier and his ilk should be proud.
The man I met was a personal driver from Simla. He was in his late fifties (I would guess), and asked me where I was from. I told him America, and Washington D.C. in particular. At this he registered surprise, but asked about Washington. I told him it was a wonderful city that was obsessed with politics. This led to a conversation about the upcoming Indian election, and, eventually, about President Obama. What did I think of the president, he wondered? Hadn't Obama seen some tough times lately? I nodded. Why couldn't the president do more, he asked?
Well, I said, second terms are difficult. President's don't usually get a lot done. And Obama has an unfriendly legislative branch, which means that he can't pass major legislation anymore. The man shook his head, and said these were mere excuses, and that politicians always made excuses. If Obama wanted to get things done and lead, he could. (The man didn't precisely say "get things done" or "lead," so Washington's pundits still must overcome another hurdle before people across the world are using their precise, empty phrases.)
I did my best to convince the man that Obama's inability to pass big domestic bills was really, truly not his fault, and we agreed to part on amicable terms. In fact, our parting was an example of the polite tone sorely missing in Washington. If only I could have invited him to my hotel for a drink, the way tourists and Indian nationals used to do in the old days, we probably could have even found "common ground" on Obama's leadership skills.