A Down-To-Earth Leader
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
WNYC Guest Blogger: Robert George
1) Barack Obama played against type. He eschewed the high-soaring rhetoric that typified his campaign, choosing instead to stay down-to-earth, laying out a centrist (some would say 'middle-of-the-road') theme trying to paper over most partisan differences.
2) He had an appropriately hawkish tone to the enemies of America:
We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
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.
3) He chose to indict more a generation -- baby boomers -- than either a party or, implicitly, George W. Bush, for the current problems:
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
That was reminiscent of his "turn the page" language from the primaries.
4) Only partisan edge could be found in the "We will restore science to its rightful place..." line (which seemed a little gratuitous) and "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals..." (which didn't).
5) I believe Barack Obama is the first president to name-check a Vietnam battlefield (Khe Sahn)? Geez, the '60s really are over.
6) Can we resolve not to have any more poets at future inaugurations? Sorry, but Elizabeth Anderson did absolutely nothing for me. Her poem had me pining for Maya Angelou's "River-Rock-Paper-Scissors" epistle from 1993.
7) Can we resolve to clone Joseph Lowery so he can give the benediction at every future inauguration? For a guy in his 80s, he was able to bring it -- mixing clear homages to King speeches of decades gone by; the lengthy marches that helped bring about this moment -- but concluding it with a "chromatic" passage, essentially reciting the "color-coding" that was shared within the black community. The way he delivered it, he clearly wanted to evoke laughter. But that helped make it poignant: He was referencing how many blacks once saw the opportunities for success in society -- based on the shades of their skin.
The fact that he had now lived to see a black man become president of the United States allowed him now to conjure words that had once been passed along with bitterness -- and dismiss them in a voice of sheer joy.
Beautiful way to end the spoken part of the ceremony.