Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama

The world is a better place.

I text messaged a few of my politically conscientious friends those same six words only moments after Barack Hussein Obama's swearing in as the 44th President of the United States of America. The responses varied, but they all seemed to carry the same basic cautionary tone:

Pretty amazing. He has a lot of work ahead of him!

I admire your confidence, and mirror it to a great extent. But he's got one hell of a job ahead of him. Let's see if the great speaker can be the great "decider"!

I would have to agree. He's certainly got some serious expectations to live up to, but he has a remarkable amount of people cheering for him.

Agreed. You think we could get him to send someone good up here on Monday?

It is no secret that Barack Obama has been put in one of the most difficult positions in the history of the Presidency. The economy is in shambles. The country is involved in two wars, one of which it has absolutely no business being in. And the world's opinion of what was once considered this epoch's finest nation, is at an all-time low.

It would be impossible for us to expect one man to cure a nation of these monumental woes. He is not the Messiah. But what he is, more than anything else, is a man of character. He is a man of integrity. He is a man with the courage of his convictions.

There is little denying the man's oratorical skills. By the time it is all said and done, he might just go down as the greatest speaker in the history of the Presidency. His words carry the kind of weight that we haven't witnessed or felt in a generation. His words carry the capacity to inspire. And his words give people hope where they would otherwise be bereft of faith or expectation.

He is the kind of man who can bring people together. Never was this more evident than on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. earlier today, where more than 2 million people gathered; people from every concievable race, religion, and political inclination. It was evident in his appointing his bitter Democratic rival, Hilary Clinton, as Secretary of State. And it was evident in the fact that Obama hosted a dinner in Senator McCain's honour; the same Senator with whom he fought a vicious battle for the Presidency; the night before his inauguration. Barack Obama is not simply talking the talk when it comes to expressing the need for Americans to come together in this time of great crisis; he is unequivocally walking the walk.

In his address earlier today, Obama alluded to the fact that America would once again be a friend to all nations. And I feel that this is one of the most important things that President Obama brings to the United States of America: respectability on the world stage, and the belief that this great nation can once again lead the world. You can expect to see a great deal more American flags sewn to backpacks the world over, something that you rarely saw during the Bush administration. And I, for one, believe this is a great thing. Because if the President is capable of inspiring Americans to make their country a better place, there's no reason why they shouldn't be proud to call their country home.

But perhaps more than anything else, what President Obama brings to the office is what that same office has been lacking for far too long: the truths and values that he alluded to in his address. The truths and values that have been the quiet force of progress throughout history. Because no one embodies those values; honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, and loyalty and patriotism; the way Barack Hussein Obama does.

I can't sit here and pretend that I will agree with every one of the myriad decisions President Obama will be forced to make over the course of the next 8 years. But what I can believe, is that Barack Obama is comprised of the kind of moral fiber that will allow him to make the right decision, even in the face of the unfathomably difficult and impossible-to-please-everyone situations a President customarily finds himself at the centre of.

And at the end of the day, I believe that is all you can ask of a man.

And what's more, if you are fortunate enough have a President who lives by those same truths and values that Barack Obama embodies, the world truly will be a better place.

Obama's Inaugural Address:

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.
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.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

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 Sanh.

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.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

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.

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.

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. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

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 expedience's sake. 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.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. 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.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. 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.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: "Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive ... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.


Sean McCallum said...

One more note:

I didn't see the inaugural address live, because I was in my car, driving to a meeting (that I was late for because I wound up sitting in the parking lot, waiting for the address to finish...)

In any event, the first time I actucally saw the address was at home, on YouTube. I was jotting down notes while watching this man speak, unable to keep up with every great and noteworthy thing he said. I had chills running the length of my spine on multiple occassions.

But it wasn't until his speech was drawing to a conclusion that I felt the entire weight of his message and his words. And as he was commanding the nation:

"Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations..."

...I literally hung my head, drained and exhausted from having witnessed it all, and simply wrote the words: "I love this man".

The audacity of hope, indeed.

M@ said...

The world is clearly a better place. With the expiration of Bush’s term that was pretty much inevitable. I share your belief that Barack Obama’s moral compass is better calibrated than most politicians’. I really am optimistic for the first time in a long time. However, I am nervous for him too. I’m nervous because I’ve read Obama’s book and I’ve watched him like so many others and while I agree with his ideals, they are lofty ones and I’ve yet to see him prove that he can translate them into sound policy. So far he’s done a pretty good job setting up his presidency and acting quickly on Guantanamo is a great sign, but given the current economic climate, the grand expectations, the extraordinary scrutiny he will be under, and the competing demands he has to manage it’s hard for me not to worry that even he may fail. My hope is that the American people are conscious of the difficulty of the tasks ahead of him and give him a bit of leeway.

Sadly, I don’t have as much optimism about Canadian politics. For the first time in my lifetime we have an American president who is far more progressive than our Prime Minister and to make matters worse the leader of the opposition has argued in favour of using torture and advocates a more interventionist foreign policy (and was a supporter of the war in Iraq).

I’m also under no illusions that Obama will make everything better. American foreign policy has been corrupt for quite some time. The military industrial complex is embedded in the system and the interventionist approach has become standard. This can only be changed incrementally. I hope Obama will change the momentum, but it’s important to remember that their record on foreign policy even under Clinton was hardly squeaky clean and Hillary will clearly have some say in the matter. But it’s obviously better than the Bush/Cheney/Rice troika and for that I think the world is breathing a little easier today.

Anonymous said...

I prefer to stay optimistic. Good will always win over evil, M@.

I don't know much about politics, but I am happy that the president isn't afraid to refer to God in his speech.. are we still allowed to say God in Canada?

And now, on a more serious note.. do you think the White House recycles?

... I'm actually serious.. I'd love to know...


Anonymous said...

What I hope is that Obama doesn't revert to the pre-Bush practice of the presidency lying about their intelligence gathering practices.

Say what you want about Cheney and Bush, but it's naive to think they started the practice of rendition and torture. They were definitely the first to admit it, but I'm more concerned that the US will go back to the era of doing things without informing the public.

Considering that Bob Gates was retained by Obama as secretary of defense, I fear that Obama is moving in the wrong direction here. Gates' career has involved a significant amount of black ops and I see no reason to expect any change. I mean, he came up through the CIA and had a senior role at the agency during some of their most controversial activities. The most obvious example being the Iran-Contra affair, where it's never really been revealed what degree of involvement he had - all we really know is that Gates likely lied under oath during his testimony to the Independent Counsel.

As a citizen (Canadian), I'd rather my government be out in the open on these types of activities rather than hide them (we are at least complicit to torture as CSIS and the RCMP each did a minimal job in preventing the Arar incident). At least if the government is open and honest about things of this nature, I can have some say into whether or not the activities take place through my voting (remember, Americans re-elected Bush in 2004 knowing full-well these activities took place). If everything is hidden from citizens, this removes a very key activity from the decision of the electorate.

Closing Gitmo may be a nice symbolic move, but if it means that there are more cases like Arar where people are whisked off to Syria, I'd say this is a significant step backwards.

Anonymous said...

the world is a better place.....it certainly is.

besides being extremely inspirational, swift, confident and energetic, the man is simply brilliant. with all his assets, i really believe that his 'lack of experience' will be a huge advantage. With Barack strolling around town not owing half of washington a decade of favours should be simply awesome.

personally, when i look at this individually, this really does makes it true. this is the absolute proof that you really can do anything, become anything. i don't know if one person that i've never met, has ever inspired me to demand more of myself. the american people elected a black man with the name hussein as their leader. what's your excuse?

Anonymous said...

Right on. You said it...a brilliant take on this momentous event.

Fuck you're a wordsmith Sean.

Anonymous said...

As someone afraid that the new presidency indicates the image of change versus actual change, the fact that Yo Yo Ma, Perlman, et al did not play and instead acted along with recorded audio is not an encouraging sign.

It's minor, but that's also the point - if you're going to mislead on something so insignificant, what happens with bigger things. For example, will most people released from Gitmo just end up in an equivalent spot that we don't know about?

Anonymous said...

I'm annoyed that no one is writing their names at the end of their comments.. and how come know one cares if the White House recycles?!?!?!?!

Lisa Marie McCallum

Anonymous said...

Very well put Sean...as always! Obama truly is amazing. My only wish is that Canadians were as passionate about policitics in our country as they are about the American, or even better, that we had someone truly as inspirational as him that we could be as passionate about...