Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 20, 2009

A FORCEFUL WAY FORWARD.... The president's inaugural address ended less than an hour ago, and thoughtful and thorough scrutiny will take a long while. But my initial reaction is that this was a dense and powerful speech, and a more forceful rejection of the status quo than I'd expected.

Early on, President Barack Obama (I still take some pleasure in typing that) acknowledged the peril of the times, but reminded Americans that conditions will improve in time.

"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 health care 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.

"These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land -- a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America -- they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.... Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

Soon after, Obama presented an ambitious agenda, and then defended the notion of ambition itself.

"Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions -- who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them -- that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply."

But it seemed the portion of the speech that resonated most was an implicit celebration of civil liberties, even in a time of crisis.

"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."

I didn't see George W. Bush's face at the time, but the new president's remarks were a rather specific rejection of the most recent president's entire worldview.

Obama went on to deliver a message to the world about America's place in it.

"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.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to 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."

Looking over my notes, I noticed that there was some enthusiastic applause -- both in my house and on the Mall, when Obama noted, almost in passing, "We will restore science to its rightful place." It was also encouraging when Obama, in addressing America's spiritual diversity, gave a shout-out to non-believers. Nice touch.

I suspect a lot of observers watch a speech like this, waiting for "the phrase." FDR had "nothing to fear..." and JFK had "ask not...." To a lesser extent, Clinton told us that "what is right with America" can solve its ills, and Reagan identified government as "the problem."

Did Obama offer that short, memorable phrase, which will be talked about for generations? Perhaps not. I was struck by Obama's allusion to Corinthians: "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." That said, it was not a sound-bite line, for those looking for one.

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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Comments

NBC cut to Bush. I believe it was after this line

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."

I thought he looked perturbed.

I was absolutely amazed and thoroughly pleased with the acknowledgement of non-believers.

Posted by: scarolina on January 20, 2009 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Thank you for posting Pres. Obama's (Oh man that sounds so good.) speech. It gives us a chance to go voere and over so many great points he mad.
Do you know if there is anyway that the text of Lowery's benediction could be posted. I thought it was great. Many lines that sounded like the Civil Rights area.
I intentionally skipped Warrens part.

Posted by: redrover on January 20, 2009 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Sober, realistic, and given to realism not rhetoric. And yes, a direct and forceful repudiation of BushCo.

Posted by: Gore/Feingold '16 on January 20, 2009 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

President Barack Obama (I still take some pleasure in typing that)

I take pleasure in referring to the Bush Administration in the PAST TENSE

Posted by: TCG on January 20, 2009 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Obama has made many a great speech.

Today he asked us to go forward together.

I don't need a sound bite to ruminate on.

We'll probably all remember the mangled oath more than the speech. Go figure.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 20, 2009 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Pure A game

His best speech to date.

Posted by: koreyel on January 20, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Warren wasn't as bad as I'd feared, but he did manage to slip in a zinger or two. The one I really noticed was something to the effect of "all people everywhere will eventually have to stand before thee." I remember thinking that the Muslims, Jews and Hindus might be a little annoyed about that, but as zingers go it wasn't all that bad.

Definitely could have been worse.

Posted by: Curmudgeon on January 20, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

For me the key one-liner is:

A nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

Posted by: Danp on January 20, 2009 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

What a day! I'm getting whiplash trying to watch TV, watch MSNBC on the net, and read blogs. Don't want to miss a minute of it.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on January 20, 2009 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

"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."

As a foreigner I have to say: this slap in the face of the Bush policies is exactly what the world needed.

It seems so easy to express reason...

Posted by: Vokoban on January 20, 2009 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Great speech. President Obama is capable of writing speeches that have so much nuance that the targets do a double take and think, "is he talking about me?" So smooth.

Lowery was great. I loved watching he and John Lewis through this day, which had to have so much meaning coming on the heels of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

So much of the ceremony was touching, so much joyful. I would be lying if I didn't get a little giddy watching Bush's departure from the Capitol. It's finally over.

Oh, and in regard to that earlier Limbaugh post, if anyone of the democratic persuasion had said anything regarding Bush as he did about Obama, we'd never hear the end of it. He's a tool, as is Coulter, as is Hannity. Other than pointing out their lies and suing them for slander and libel, I think it's best we just ignore them and hope they take their toys and go home -- if no other time, than today.

Hope is reality.

Posted by: LP on January 20, 2009 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

I am fairly sure it wasn't directed at Bush directly (Obama is just not that vindictive), but I couldn't help but hear that the first ten minutes of his speech as a direct repudiation of all that Bush and his cronies stand for.

Posted by: Alex Kirby on January 20, 2009 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

President Obama blasted the policies of the last 8 years with howitzers, or whatever they use these days to blow things to smithereens. Had I been bush, I would have been squirming. I imagine he really, really PO'd the republicans in Congress.

But, he also laid down the gauntlet for them (and the blue dogs), which I thought was a smart tactical move. To me he was saying, Look, I'm trying to make frieds, but we've got some big problems and don't think for a minute I'm going to tolerate obstructionism. At least I'm hoping that's what he said.

Posted by: CDW on January 20, 2009 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

We definitely had a similar reaction here at MIT over the science line - definitely drew the loudest applause in the lecture halls broadcasting the festivities!

What a day!

Posted by: MITan on January 20, 2009 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

There were many lines that I really zoomed in on like the one about restoring science but the one that really stood out for me was,
"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."
I have always felt that the United States a far better country when we lead by the power of our example rather than the example of our power. I am so glad we now have a President who is not the bully of the playground.

Posted by: redrover on January 20, 2009 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Warren was awful, but no worse than any other preacher would have been. The problem lies in having a religious invocation to commence a public ceremony, and Obama's momentary acknowledgement of "non-believers" does little to rectify that.

That, however, is a small criticism of what was overall a great speech, a great day, and a great victory for America and the world.

Posted by: JRD on January 20, 2009 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

I'm glad there was no 'sound bite' moment in the speech -- or perhaps there were many rather than just one. It was, as you say, a dense speech and the whole speech is worthy of study and much thought. There is more to learn from this speech than a single line.
What a day!

Posted by: BTJ46 on January 20, 2009 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

This Nature editor let out a huge cry when science was given a shout out. And when Obama mentioned cutting programs that didn't work, my first thought was..."Abstinence programs on the chopping block!"

This day just couldn't have come soon enough.

Posted by: magister ludi on January 20, 2009 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK


Obama's speech was powerful and very direct. The inaugural poem to me was its perfect counterpoint -- bringing our diversity to unity and light. Well presented as well

What a joyous day!

How can the Republicans look at this crowd, and hear these words and hear the repudiation in the boos when Bush arrived and keep doing what they do? How can they persist in hate and division instead of providing competent and thought out policy alternatives, not just blind opposition?
We will see...will Rush Limbaugh continue to speak for their leaders? Is that their response?

Posted by: Elie on January 20, 2009 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

A great day indeed! I could not look at Dick Cheney without thinking of Old Man Potter from It's A Wonderful Life, quite fitting.

Posted by: kswan on January 20, 2009 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Some NPR poet said the speech was too acerbic.

I thought it was intentionally low key for a very good reason: he had to send a message to friends and enemies, to would be friends and potential enemies. There was a distinctive seriousness in his tone, something like he just decided to turn down the volume just a little so that everyone could listen more closely.

Posted by: tomj on January 20, 2009 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

"Former President George W. Bush."

That is all.

Posted by: Cyan on January 20, 2009 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

How can the Republicans look at this crowd, and hear these words and hear the repudiation in the boos when Bush arrived and keep doing what they do?

Well, first of all, let's remember that not all Republicans are movement conservatives, and I believe that just as Reagan peeled away a number of voters who previously identified as Democrats, a number of Republicans, driven away in disgust from their party's failures, will embrace the Democratic party of Barak Obama.

As for the rest, two words: cognitive dissonance.

The more reality demonstrates that their beliefs are wrong, the more they reject reality and cling to their beliefs.

And then there are those who are simply moral reprobates, for whom the GOP fits like [strike]an old shoe[/strike] two wetsuits and a diaper.

Anyone who's watched the degeneracy of the pro-Bush trolls in these threads over the years has watched both of these types in action.

Posted by: Gregory on January 20, 2009 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

I rate it a B/B-minus overall.

Too much nerves, and looked/sounded WAY too TelePrompTer-ed on the delivery side.

On content? I found it offputting since, less than 2 minutes, in, he felt compelled to already reference the so-called GWOT. Didn't he read British FM David Miliband last week?

And, while Obama may claim to address cynics, honest skeptics will keep their powder dry.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 20, 2009 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

I hope I'm wrong, but I don't feel such enthusiasm about this administration. In the foreign policy arena, no specific mention was made of our relations with the EU, Russia, Iran, the Middle East, external prisons, etc. His approach to Afghanistan, to Israel, Hamas, Iran, etc. appear to be on track with policies parallel to the those of the great decider. I found the reference to the war on terror to be utterly stupid, along with the accompanying aggressive posturing.

Posted by: rbe1 on January 20, 2009 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

I thought Steve's observation that the speech was dense was the most accurate. I thought it was a substantively excellent speech but not as lyrical as some. I certainly thought that it was delivered with as much energy and passion as any speech I have heard Obama give although his timing was not quite as good as some of his others. I thought his directly addressing the world was interesting and his quoting Washington rather than Lincoln.

Posted by: terry on January 20, 2009 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

He may be the president now, but he'll always be the O-Man to me.

Good luck Big O.

Posted by: citizen_pain on January 20, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Good luck Big O.

Ooh, are the Kansas City Kings getting back together? Go Oscar Robertson!!!

Posted by: Danp on January 20, 2009 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

This was my favorite part, the last part:

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 was really poetic. It wasn't his most inspiring speech, but these are hard times and it said what needed to be said--the last 8 years were a repudiation of our ideals and it's high time to get back to them, to be inclusive and hopeful and pragmatic.

Posted by: Mimikatz on January 20, 2009 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

happy days are here again!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SESr9D5Gd7A

Posted by: karen marie on January 20, 2009 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

I'd agree with those who heard many great moments, but if I were to pick one, it would be,

"What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them -- that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply."

The most dramatic and damaging aspect of the last 30 years has been the ability of cynical conservatives to fool the public with propaganda. Any sort of forward progress depends upon a majority refusing to buy the lies, misdirection, misrepresentation, hatred and fear that mark moderate conservatism. Acknowledging that directly, as Obama did, is a sign that just maybe the ground will shift.

Posted by: beep52 on January 20, 2009 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

I was absolutely amazed and thoroughly pleased with the acknowledgement of non-believers.

Amen.

Posted by: Mick on January 20, 2009 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Enduring soundbite:

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works

Obama - The Great Pragmatist

Posted by: John Henry on January 20, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

I have a feeling that the parade has been put on fast-forward. Only Obama/Biden are left in the "unheated" review booth.

I have to hand it to Obama, he is sticking it out in the very cold, chatting with Biden.

Posted by: tomj on January 20, 2009 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

It delivered inspiration, hope and optimism. What it was like, what happened, and what it is now delivered with a sense of direction...a change of direction. The people have come forward to be represented and not "ruled" which is what has happened these past 8yrs. Obama has come not to bury government but to make it efficient...not to remove all of its funding by giving tax breaks to the very wealthy but to make it an arm of the people using our funds to ensure their prosperity and protect our democracy.

We are so fortunate to have escaped the Bush administration with our democracy still functioning...so filled with hope to overwhelmingly reject this divisive republican conservatism in this last election...and to have suited up and showed up to the celebration of this beginning day of the restoration of our democracy is a statement of our support for this new agenda so well articulated by our newly elected leader. A new day has dawned that will use accountability and consequences to mark the new way forward. How lucky we are to have to have made it here.

Posted by: joey on January 20, 2009 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

Talk's cheap.

Posted by: Luther on January 21, 2009 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

Good speech.

And his chief of staff was issuing Executive Branch orders practically as he spoke.

That's fast.

Posted by: Glen on January 21, 2009 at 4:24 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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