Eight years ago, I had a sinking feeling. Bill Clinton had just shook the hand of a soldier who had just sung his country’s national anthem ; awkwardly, the same soldier turned to face George W Bush … and got nothing from him. Bush’s inaugural address did little to dispel this sense of deflation – here was the world undoubtedly making a change which it, and the very Americans who had voted for it, would come to regret.
If Clinton was far from perfect, eight years of the same high-handed behaviour sees Bush leave office with his popularity as well as his reputation in tatters. For a candidate who won office purely on the basis of being the sort of guy you’d like to have a beer with, this is quite the turn-around. Fox’s final numbers [pdf] on Bush tell the usual story: in his first term, Bush enjoyed the support, or at least the goodwill, of 61% of Americans, more than had ever voted for him. Today, that number is just 37% – many polls less favourable to the GOP put it far lower.
But it’s the average of the two terms that strikes me – 51%, that terrifying number which suggests that, over eight years, America might yet be as divided as it was in 2000 and 2004, when rancour characterized both of the mutually exclusive blocs in US politics. The social and cultural importance of an Obama presidency is already assured, and has already been exhaustively analysed. Its political significance will rest in no small part on his ability to knit his nation together. With an approval rating of 73% (according to RCP at the time of writing), he’s better placed than anyone to try.
On top of everything else, above and beyond all the staggering progress Obama’s election symbolises, that’s what separates today from January 20th, 2001: this time America has a guy who might try to shake a few extra hands.
 Something’s telling me this can’t be right, but he was up there for something, and this is how I’m deciding to remember it.