20 January 2009

Inevitably, Barack Obama

Got home too late to see the speech live, but the glow of warmth was still emanating from a freezing Washington. All the news seems to be about the significance of the event, rather than what Obama said, which is a pity, because there's actually some serious content, which seems to mark a clear difference from the Bush years. Some extracts:
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our healthcare is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

Wham! Bush's friends nailed for guilt and irresponsibility, and climate change recognised as a threat.
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 healthcare'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.

The promise of a new new deal - turning the crisis of economic collapse into an opportunity of public works for the public good. Science! He dares to mention science. Unthinkable in Bush's time.
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 favours only the prosperous.

A clear rebuke to the old regime, universally seen as acquiescent at best to the selfishness of markets.
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 opening rhetoric necessarily recruits past patriotism, to reunite it with the American belief - sometimes annoying - that it can be the light of good in the world. Humility and restraint were concepts that Bush never valued.
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.

Non-believers! That was almost made illegal not so long ago. And interesting that he refers to a patchwork of beliefs, not race. He later talks about dissolving the "lines of tribe" - moving to a country where it's not what you are but what you do that matters.
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.

Not dodging the real but unnecessary conflict between America and the Muslim world, but declaring respect for those who build.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

And the personal reference before the close of the speech, reminding everyone why the dream of equality and opportunity matters.

This feeling won't last. Reality will damage the dream as it always does. But let's just be happy for now.

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