Barack Obama is in his first full day as president. For many of you, considering this is one of America’s last Republican strongholds, that simple fact elicits feelings of concern and anxiety. For others, the notion of Barack in charge generates feelings of optimism and hope. And for the black community, this is a day most thought would never come.
I’m willing to give President Obama a chance. He wasn’t my choice for president—heck my candidate wasn’t even on the ballot in this state. And I’m quite certain his views on the size and role of government are not even close to my views on those subjects. Nonetheless, my love of democracy and respect for the presidency demands Obama be given a fair opportunity to lead this nation, as he said yesterday, “amidst gathering clouds and raging storms.”
(Besides, there’s an outside shot that he’s right and I’m wrong. Hey, lightning’s gotta strike somewhere.)
Obama’s inaugural address was inspiring and it clearly resonated with many in this country. He did an eloquent job outlining the major themes of our times. The challenge, of course, comes down the road when we actually go about ending the “crisis” the new president says we face.
Still, there were times when Obama was preaching to my personal choir.
His challenge for Americans to take responsibility for their actions and, as George Will wrote, to grow up and act like adults, had me jumping off the couch. There are many villains in the financial crisis, yet the group that hasn’t truly been chastised for their greed and ignorance are the people who knowingly over-leveraged themselves and bought houses on terms they had to know they couldn’t afford.
For many, it was like a trip to Vegas. They bet the house that values would never drop. They lost. Now we’re paying.
The most cleverly worded sentence of the speech was this: “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.” That ending is a beautiful turn of phrase.
To me, the apogee of Obama’s address came about halfway in, when he said, “As for our common defense, we reject as false 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.”
Sadly, this country abandoned many of its fundamental ideals (the right to privacy and human rights head the list) under George W. Bush, doing so in the name of public safety in a post-9/11 world. This is the biggest blight on W’s legacy.
Nations have always had disagreements with U.S. policy, yet we remained the planet’s most admired nation because, prior to Bush, we refused to compromise our core values.
If Obama does nothing else, his term as president will be a success if he restores our credibility on this non-compromising front.