Tuesday, January 20, 2009

 

President Obama's Inaugural Address

Thoughts on President Obama's Inaugural Address.

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
A good start. He says "our ancestors", and that is correct to do, even if his father was an immigrant, and would be correct to say even if both his parents were. And he is gracious to President Bush.
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.
A gesture of respect to God, which is good.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
"Khe Sahn": very good. That won't make the Clintons happy.
We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.
"Its rightful place"? That's an odd thing to say.
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.
This sentence says a lot. Obama thinks that the purpose of government is to help you find a job and cheap health care and make you be dignified in your retirement (what he means, of course by, "a retirement that is dignified" is not a dignified retirement, free of internet porn, pant suits, and trips to Las Vegas, but a wealthy retirement). In the past, Americans would have thought that government was for things like crime prevention and national defense, and that a government worked if it just managed not to *prevent* your from finding a job or cheap health care. Of course, modern government makes it illegal for you to find a job if it would pay less than minimum wage, and it says you aren't allowed to get health care from anybody cheaper than a graduate of a medical school.

Contrast with Jefferson's First Inaugural:

[A] wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.

It's such a parallel, and that Jefferson speech is such a famous Inaugural Address, that I wonder if the opposition to it in Obama's speech is intentional. Jefferson also said:

Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

Back to the present-day:

With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense,...
I hope he means that we won't apologize for emitting lots of carbon dioxide or waver in defending our way of life, but I think this was probably just a mistake in editing.
We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.
Interesting. Will Jews mind being demoted to third place? Hindus will like being included.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.
Again a gracious gesture. Did Bill Clinton say things like this? It's hard to image him doing so, but maybe I'm just forgetful.
But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true.
I dislike the word "values" as implying lack of intrinsic worth, but the word is pervasive, and we can imagine Bush saying the same thing. I like "These things are true", though. It doesn't exactly make sense, but I think he means that these good things are truly good, not just his personal preference.
They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we 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. This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
That's the best sentence of the speech. The second "the" is the key.
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.
Another good phrase. It's nice, too, because it reminds us subtly that he's biracial.
So let us mark this day with 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 dying 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)."
A good section for a cold day, even if it's not as effective in print.
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. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.
A good ending.

Labels: , , , ,

 

To view the post on a separate page, click: at (the permalink).

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home