President Barack Obama 2009 Inauguration and Address
A political fairy tale
Barack Hussein Obama has come from near anonymity to the head of the most powerful nation on Earth despite – or maybe because – of his humble beginnings, the color of his skin and his most improbable name. His calm demeanor, his uplifting message of hope and the astonishing discipline and efficiency of his campaign brought in sharp contrast the often erratic and chaotic campaigns of his opponents (Democrats and Republicans alike). But most likely, the people’s desire for a clear and clean break with the way this were was also a powerful force in this extraordinary achievement.
His transition team showed an unparalleled level of preparedness and acuity. His first days have been a constant stream of positive actions towards rebuilding, one step at a time, the vast social, economic and political devastation brought upon by 8 years of Bush administration corrupt irresponsibility.
What to expect
In my opinion, the most important cultural shift that the Obama presidency may bring to the US (and possibly the world at large) is the end of the assault on reason (as coined by ex-vice-president Al Gore ) and the rule by incompetence promoted by the US media and the US government in the past decades. This situation had been escalated to astounding new heights by the Bush administration and its enablers. This change will likely be brought by the people Obama will appoint to key offices, his policies and the personal example Obama will provide himself as the ultimate role-model.
Teaching vs obfuscation
Politicians in general and right-wing neo-conservatives in particular, will usually use fear, confusion and ignorance in order to push objectionable policies into law. The Bush administration’s cynical exploitation of the 9/11 tragedy to wage an illegal war, molest the US constitution and attempt to legalize torture is a clear example of this tactic. In this political climate, Obama’s willingness and capacity to tackle complex issues and explain them properly to the people in order to justify his agenda is nothing short of remarkable.
One of the defining moments of Obama’s character for me was when he faced one of his greatest challenges during his campaign: the political firestorm following the non-stop broadcasting of the angry rantings of his ex-preacher, Jeremiah Wright. Most politicians would have fabricated some kind of distraction to push the subject out of the public minds or used inflammatory rhetoric to stir up public outrage for their own pet ideology. Instead, Obama crafted a startlingly inspirational speech (see “A more perfect Union” below) that attempted to explain in plain yet uplifting terms why African-American people such as Mr. Wright would feel such anger, where that anger comes from, what is the modern legacy of the slave trade and how people can rise above this legacy of hate to make a better world. He also acknowledged that many white people also have a hard life and that their own rightful anger was often manipulated by unconscionable people to help further the condition of their economic and social oppression.
’A More Perfect Union’, March 18, 2008
Instead of dodging a potentially toxic issue, Obama faced it square-on and crafted a historic speech that went a long way in jump-stating once again the national healing process that Martin Luther King had dreamed of 50 years ago.
Competence vs. ideology
Whereas the bush administration systematically undermined every American institution by putting in key positions an army of ideologically “pure” but corrupt and incompetent neo-conservative yes-men, Obama is already building a mostly diverse, bi-partisan and intellectually strong cabinet and inner-circle, including nominating Steven Chu a Nobel-prize laureate as head of the Energy.
"(Chu’s) appointment should send a signal to all that my administration will value science," Obama said during the press conference. "We will make decisions based on facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action."
His willingness to surround oneself with people that have aggressively disagreed with him in the past, such as his appointment of Hilary Clinton as US State Secretary, also show an utterly refreshing level of confidence and an understanding that no-one has a monopoly on truth. (The maxim “Kepp your friends close to you but keep your enemies even closer” may also true in this instance, but it does not diminish Obama’s accomplishment.)
This is the kind of leader America needs, this is the kind of leader all countries in the world need: someone who can articulate complex ideas, provide historical context, bring a vision of how we can achieve greatness and someone who will seek excellence and competence over ideological purity and wealth.
My hopes for an Obama presidency are as follow:
- Obama will provide a strong, articulate and thoughtful leadership role-model that will be emulated by children and adults alike in their day-to-day lives.
- A more civil and rational dialog between the US government, its citizens and the rest of the world – and that means with everyone, not just those with the “right” ideology.
- A more open, transparent and participatory US democratic process. All too often, the Bush administration hid the government’s operation from scrutiny while invading the privacy of its own citizens.
- A less scary US where rule of law is reinstated for everyone, torture is no longer acceptable (or even debatable) policy and where foreign visitors (even those who disagree with some US policies) can expect to be allowed to visit without being harassed or arrested without cause,
- A greener America where renewable energy gets the support it needs.
- A positive and strong participation in the middle-east peace process, including the end of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as Israeli and Palestinian reconciliation.
Most of all, I hope that Obama will continue to provide a vivid example of what someone with apparent integrity, intelligence, education and an open mind can accomplish.
Regardless of whether what Obama means everything he ever said or not, his actions and his example are already changing the way the world looks at America and how American want to see themselves – for the better.