Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hey, haters! The Inaugural Speech Didn't Suck!

Look out, America, Barack Obama's at the wheel now!

Unlike a lot of commentators, I thought it was a great inaugural speech. Maybe they were expecting the best speech of their lives, perhaps a speech that would make sweet, sweet love to the English language as Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi said. But what we got was something that I was hoping for; a polite implicit castigation of the policies of former president George W. Bush.

He started out by listing all the big problems in our country today; job losses, health care costs, oil-dependent energy policy, et cetera. Then he started with the hope spiel, which all along has been an implicit put-down of the fear politics of former president Bush. Obama made sure to proclaim an end to the "recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics." Always an expert at reframing the debate, Obama put the big government vs. small government argument to rest by saying we need a government that works; and he pleaded for a new era of transparency to replace the shadowy dealings of former Lord Cheney and his minions. And then he said probably my favorite line of the whole speech, "The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous." Take that, tax cuts for the wealthy!

Of course this was a good line too: "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." This is about as flowery as a statement of rejection of torture and illegal wiretapping can get. Obama went on to make the case for diplomacy over brute power using history and pragmatism as a reference. "Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint." Speak softly, even if you do have a big stick.

As a president, Obama must now make tough statements directed at unfriendly nations just like former president Bush was fond of doing. But even Obama's tough statements are tempered with moderation. Take for instance the sentence that is now banned in China: "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." If former president Bush was the one speaking, he probably would have stopped after "history".

Then Obama wrapped it up basically by saying we shall overcome if all nations can see we share a common respect for humanity, and that we shall prosper by taking responsibility for our actions, and let's keep gettin' better, America! So while it was maybe not an epic speech, it served its purpose of turning the page on the Bush administration and uplifting a nation that has taken a few punches over the last 8 years.

So now the real business begins!


Jacob said...

First of all, I object to the term "commentator." I much prefer "thing-observer" or, alternatively, "expoundist."

I really do believe it was fine...outside the top five, but definitely high up in the next tier. Unequivocably the best since Kennedy's. And I certainly wasn't expecting much more (he's already made two history book speeches, so he can take some time off). The best-written line really was the "extend hand/unclenched fist" one, though now I worry about our relations with Upper Fistopia.

Anyway, nobody should make sweet, sweet love to the English language. You don't know where that thing's been.

Steve said...

That was about the least dirty context in which one will ever hear the phrase "relations with Upper Fistopia".

Shevon said...

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

I agree that he used the English language beautifully in this section of the speech. That was lovely. I love the phrase "we reject as false the..".

I do wish the speech was organized a little better.