As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Address

So after watching John Roberts butcher the oath of office, I had to get to work, so I actually listened to Obama's inaugural address in the car. The text, by the way, can be found here. About five or so minutes into it, I thought, "Wow, this is not very good." It wasn't the delivery, which sounded assured and confident. It was the text, which I felt was kind of clichéd and not very inspirational. Interestingly, it picked up in the middle section, which had more of a policy edge than most Inaugurals. What struck me was the very pronounced break with the policies of the Bush Administration, along with rhetoric of inclusiveness that called Americans to service, but also the very strong tone taken against "enemies," almost a liberal hawk's tone, with language that brushed up against the edge of warmongering. It was an interesting juxtaposition.

Right from the top, Obama sought to capitalize on his hold on America's trust, by bolstering their confidence. He rejected the idea that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights. He was measured, but said that our challenges will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

I think "hope over fear" may be the phrase to come out of this speech (far better than "a new era of responsibility"), and that's not really an original thought. I think "the time has come to set aside childish things," borrowed from Scripture, was strong, but again, borrowed. The whole of the speech defied an easy codification with a turn of phrase or one line, and yet the whole stood up fine. I liked the paean to the "the doers, the makers of things" who built this country and sacrificed for a better future (I thought the inclusion of Khe Sanh was a bit off, and if just focused on service, why not Kabul and Fallujah?). And while policy dryness is not what I expected, Obama really got me when he made the argument against the recent past and toward a brighter tomorrow that recognizes ideals over expediency.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do [...]

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

The look on Bush's face during much of this had to have been priceless. After all the odes to bipartisanship, the calls for civility in the discourse, here Obama reveals his true self as someone who will lead a different path on the economy, on foreign policy, on science, on the environment, on civil liberties. That is what I needed to hear today.

And the elements of inclusiveness were very welcoming, especially given the previous resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

I thought that "your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy" line wasn't necessarily aimed outward.

Obama has a sense of the importance of the moment, that we cannot go forward senselessly, consuming the planet's resources, neglecting the plight of those impoverished around the world who are easy prey for extremism, and that he cannot bring this change forward alone, that he must engage the American people to "have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task." It was a smart speech in that it sought to teach, to invest the country in the progress that needs to be made. The final reference, not to Lincoln or Roosevelt or Kennedy but to Washington, and not President Washington but General Washington, to an edict read to his charges, was one that sought to summon up the courage of a people. That was the goal of the speech, and I think he succeeded.

“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

While the modern Presidency has enormous reserves of power and the current time of crisis can only serve to make the office even more powerful, it is to Obama's credit that he feels he must have not just the people's assent, but their engagement in order to succeed. Even though that outsources some power to an unpredictable source. But if the people don't meet this bargain, true progress cannot happen. So let's hope everyone got the message.

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