Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's inauguration: A day for hope.

His critics mocked him for it, but he had the audacity to run on a slogan of hope. It was a message which resonated with millions of Americans and millions of others around the world.

He dared to reject the message of fear which politicians had long peddled and asked us to look at the world as the Kennedy's had looked at the world:

"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were and ask why not."
That optimism, that belief that we can do better, that we can take the threat of global warming seriously, that we can construct a fairer society in which all have a stake, is at the centre of Obama's message.

Again, he echoes the Kennedy's:
If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
And also, again like JFK, he dares to suggest that the way to deal with enemies is to attempt to negotiate with them, rather than to resort to violence as a first response:
"Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."
He has set forward an audacious agenda, an agenda that no politician has dared to set since the sixties, an agenda that asks that we reach for what is best in us, that we reject the cynicism/realism which has become the political norm and reach for the stars as Kennedy once set his sights on the moon.

It is a message which, in the midst of Bush's war on terror and Cheney's vision of perpetual war, resonated around the globe.

The American president has an effect on the lives of every person on the planet, and here stood a candidate who spoke the way the rest of us wanted an American president to speak.

But today at noon, beneath the western front of the Capitol, a truly extraordinary event will take place. Forecasters say the temperature will struggle to reach freezing, as this slender, almost delicate, figure whose name was virtually unknown five years ago, is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.

But any meteorological chill will be banished by the human warmth, exuding from a million souls or more crammed on the Mall in Washington listening to him, and from maybe billions more around the world watching on television. For one day at least, and however irrationally, relief will replace fear, and gloom will be swept aside by a vast tide of hope.

The anticipation that stretches from America's capital to almost every corner of the earth has many reasons. One of the worst and most unpopular presidents in US history is departing. There is a sense of new beginning, of fresh new energies brought to bear on the enormous problems of the hour. But the most remarkable thing is the most obvious. The most powerful man in the world, the man who steps into the shoes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan is black.

Whilst not discounting the enormity of the significance of Obama's colour, I must be honest and say that this is not what excites me the most about his presidency.

I am much more impressed by his intelligence. By the way his brain works. This is not a man who is ruled by his gut, as his campaign for this office clearly showed. Never once during his long campaign did this man ever descend into the gutter. When his back was thrust to the wall he responded with soaring rhetoric and searing intellect.

The people who mocked the notion of "change" failed to understand that the change he is offering is in the way he thinks. Conventional wisdom has always stated that one doesn't negotiate with enemies. And yet, Obama rejects such "wisdom" and counters that not talking to Iran for decades has not yielded the results we crave and that it is time to try a new approach.

That is merely one example of the "change" Obama promises. To look at problems anew, to be unafraid to dispense with conventional wisdom and throw out long held beliefs which have got us nowhere.

Andrew Sullivan:
This is not typical for politicians in any climate and era. In the post-Clinton, post-Bush divide of the US, it’s a shock of sorts, and one most Washingtonians have yet to absorb. More shocks, I suspect, are to come, as people begin to realise that the new politics Obama promised is actually more than just a marketing device for a campaign.
The change Obama promised was never just a campaign slogan. He means it. He doesn't think the way conventional wisdom in Washington demands that people think. That's exactly what the rest of us find so exciting about this guy.

Almost two years ago I wrote about his announcement of his candidacy:
He's opened briskly, but it's a long haul to the finishing line. I wish the young Senator well.
As he stands on the podium today to accept the presidency, that same sentiment will apply.

Today, we dare to hope.

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