Much ink has been expended on Obama’s inaugural address. But I have a few observations of my own about it. One NPR commentator remarked on how it diverged so radically from the path Bush laid out in the past eight years, but that it did so obliquely. There were many passages in which I noted this, including this one criticizing Bush’s embrace of the national security state. Hearing these words made me realize that virtually all the sturm und drang of that time is over. Civil liberties will once again be safe with this new president. The worst excesses of Bush-Cheney are to be rolled back:
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.
Our founding fathers faced with perils that 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 we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the 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.
We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations.
Obama also gave a magnificent “shout out” to the Muslim world, which he couched in the native rhetoric of the American melting pot. Though I don’t agree with his characterization of tribal identity in and of itself being inimical to his vision, I do agree with that overall world view:
We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. 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.
An NPR commentator noted that this was the first inaugural address which mentioned Judaism, Islam or nonbelievers, for that matter. I have no doubt that Obama felt compelled to add this reference because of the offensive references to Jesus included in Rick Warren’s invocation. But regardless of his motivation, it feels wonderful to know that a president embraces “the least (in numbers) among us.” We have had eight years of Christian triumphalism and it is enough. This doesn’t mean that America stops being a Christian country. But it means that the leader of the land recognizes AND VALUES the contribution that minority religions have to make.
Though Obama couched it in general terms, there can be no doubt that the reference to “old hatreds passing” and “tribal lines dissolving” surely addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (among others). Another reassuring note to those of us looking for strong leadership from the new administration to guide us through this thorny, desolate wilderness toward a peaceful resolution of that conflict.
The following passage too marks an absolute rejection of eight years of indifference to the world’s ills and our responsibility for them:
And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
Environmentalists and those combating global poverty and hunger should be dancing in the streets. There’s a new guy in town. Of course, much will depend on the skill with which Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress marshall their forces. It’s one thing to propose policy and a far different thing to pass a legislative agenda. But no matter–by God, Obama is going to give it a shot and I, for one, can’t wait to see the result.
One thing I utterly disagree with Hedrik Hertzberg about was his portrayal of the speech was “ascetic” and “not singing.” Apparently, he didn’t hear this soaring closing passage, which sent chills down my spine:
…Let us mark this day in remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.
In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by nine campfires on the shores of an icy river.
The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.
At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
“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.
That sings to me. And it’s a glorious song. We can rejoice. We have a president once again of the people, by the people and from the people. We will not be governed by a gang of supercilious jack-booted thugs, but by a group of thoughtful, inclusive political leaders. It is, to quote another inaugural speech, “a new birth of freedom.”
I am royally pissed that in her critique of the speech for the NPR audience, Mara Liason (who I once worked with in another life when she worked at Pacifica’s KPFA in Berkeley), who also reports for FOX News, noted that Obama’s “Muslim ancestry” came out when he addressed the world’s Muslims in the speech. How many friggin’ times do we have to tell these neocons the man’s not Muslim, never was Muslim. Neither his birth father, whom he never knew, nor his adoptive father were practicing Muslims. Even a slip like this which may not have been deliberately dismissive on Liaison’s part, was terribly sloppy and just plain dumb.