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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Becomes 44th President; Davis Celebrates

The Speech

Those perhaps expecting Barack Obama to issue forth a speech on par with Lincoln's Second Inaugural, Roosevelt, and Kennedy were likely disappointed. It was a good speech, it accomplished much of what he wanted to do, but it was not one of his great speeches. It was not on par with his speech after the New Hampshire Primary or even the Iowa Primary, it was not on par with his speech on race following Reverend Wright. Nor was it on par with his acceptance speech in Denver or his victory speech on November 4, 2008.

However despite this and despite the recognition of the tough times ahead it was a festive night in Davis last night as I made my way from party to party. Photos from those parties are below. Here I have a few thoughts on his speech.

While the speech lacks perhaps the elevation, it contains quite a bit of content.

Obama says:
"We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things."
He's clearly calling for a new time where we put aside our petty partisan disputes.
"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned."
Here again he calls for the nation to return to an early time and path, an earlier ethos where we are not expected to merely be handed things. He then hearkens back to those who came to this country and those who gave work and sweat to make for a better life.
"For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction."
He then calls on us to remember for those who doubt, that we can achieve big things and have grand ambitions:
"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."
One of my favorite lines from his speech suggests that the times have changed, and old cynicism has been misplaced, old partisan complaints need to move on. This is somewhat his answer to Reagan who suggested government cannot solve our problems, it is the problem. And the answer to Clinton who suggested that the era of big government is over. This is a new day, when we ask and accept what works and changes what does not.
"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 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 dollars 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."
Another great line suggests that while the free market is the engine of wealth, it cannot go unchecked. We must have market regulation in order to insure prosperity and also some sort of equity.
"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 favors only the prosperous."

He attacks the notion that we must give up our liberties in order to be safe. Hearkening back to Franklin who suggests those who give up "essential liberty" for "temporary security" "deserve neither."
Obama says:
"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 expediency's sake."
At the same time, he calls for the end of the Bush doctrine and a return to a more humanitarian role of foreign policy, one that relies on our friends and alliances rather than goes it alone.
"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."
Finally he calls on us to all come together to make this a better place through generosity and a spirit of service.

Much of Davis Celebrates the New Presidency

The people in Davis understand that much tough work lays ahead. That times are very tough. But there is hope and happiness. Part of that is rooted in the end of eight long years of the Bush Presidency. For many the best moment tellingly came when Bush and Cheney got into the helicopter and departed from the White House.

Bush would arrive in Texas to cheering supporters, the last of the true believers it seems. But he looked like an older, weary, person even as he arrived to the hands of his supporters.

He left Washington in a very different scene where mixed crowds heavily leaning to the higher melanin populations chanted, booed, and serenaded him to the words of "nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goodbye." I had mixed reactions to those responses. On the one hand, I too harbor my anger towards the man and his Presidency. On the other hand, yesterday should have been about the future and not the past. He served his country and Obama said this weekend, he is a decent man whom we happen to disagree with. Pay your respects and be glad that the long national nightmare is over.

For the people of Davis last night it was a mixture of emotions. For the people on the mall, there were tears of happiness. One of the reporters observed that they are used to see women and children in tears at such events, the sight of so many men eyes filled with tears really signalled to them the change.

For me it was a day of almost surrealism. It never felt real like this was really happening. Perhaps part of that is the reality of the enormity of the task that has set in. Perhaps there is more to it than just that.

I was not one of the earliest Obama supporters. I was also never one of the hardest core supporters either. I grew to respect the man for his temperance, his demeanor, and his intellect. I respect him for all of the things that he seems to possess that his predecessor lacked.

But be no mistake. There are many things that need to be done and quickly to undo the worst aspects of the Bush legacy. From that standpoint, going through his speech again, I have great hope because he addresses many of them.

For me the worst aspects of the Bush presidency are when he set aside our liberty for expediency, he weakened the constitutional protections for essential liberties and he did so often for no good reason. The threat of terrorism while real, was often overstated especially in the numerous plots that came up after 9/11. There is no reason that a good security agency could not do its job while allowing people to have the right to privacy. There is no reason that we cannot protect this country while continuing the right to a trial for the accuse, even those accused of being terrorists. Despite the claims to the contrary, it appears innocent people got caught in the net that was cast.

On the foreign policy front, it is possible to be safe, tough, and proactive while working with the other nations of the world. The loss of esteem and respect around the world was a travesty.

On the national front, it is possible to be prosperous while being environmentally sound. The stripping of the clean air act. The failure to develop alternative fuels. The failure to address climate change. The failure to understand that green technology can be an engine for both economic growth AND environmental change are huge failings of the Bush administration.

It is time to accept and embrace science again. Our previous President did not believe in science. No wonder we fall behind the rest of the world in science and math education.

Health care problems identified now 20 years ago and beyond still remain. The loss of productivity from health care is immense. The resources we pump into a broken system of providing health care, not the actual medical care itself, but the provision of it, is self-defeating. Providing affordable health care would make us more productive, more healthy, and it would help take a huge burden off of business.

And that does not even get to economic crisis, the housing crisis, the need to help states like California make ends meet. The challenges that we face are enormous. But we embrace them with hope and optimism. And now we see how the future lies.

---David M. Greenwald reporting