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It’s been a long time coming, but Barack Obama is now the President of the United States. And what an extraordinary spectacle the inauguration and ‘the’ speech ended up being. In a sombre speech, possibly attempting to lower people’s expectations of him a notch, he clinically took apart the legacy of George W Bush:
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.
and followed on with:
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.
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.
He championed the virtues of science, reason, evidence and even curiosity:
We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality…
Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old.
These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.
But he also acknowledged that after decades of a drive for ever smaller government, that government was needed for the common good:
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.
Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.
And those of us who manage the public’s knowledge will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
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. The 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 the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
About time the common good got mentioned. Back to Hegelian values of helping one another because of our mutual self-interest. I hope the analysis is correct, and he carries this forward into his foreign policy. With Clinton at State and Rice at the UN it’ll be very interesting indeed. But I’ll come back to that another time.
Obama went on to acknowledge religion, but showed equal respect to those of us who don’t believe, all the time making it clear that the presidency is about proof, evidence and statistics, not faith. He slammed Israel’s recent behaviour, opened the door to Iran, and argued that the days of partisan politics were over. Excitingly (although no doubt not for him) he made it clear that the solutions to the country’s economic and political problems would need new tools, new solutions. Whether or not he finds them is also something to discuss at a later date, but it was inspiring to realise that this is the man who has to come up with the new answers. Blair and Clinton triangulated and compromised – Obama will have to come up with revolution after revolution. We live in fascinating times.
I watched this whole spectacle in a central London bar. When Obama and Biden saw W and Laura fly off in Marine One the entire bar, almost as one, shouted ‘BYE!’ (with expletive as needed). A moment to treasure forever. I confess I’m excited by what’s coming.