Archive for the ‘America’ Category

Obama and Bush

January 21, 2009
A Call for Change

Rejecting Bush Era, Reclaiming Values

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

George W. Bush taking off from the Capitol on Tuesday.

By DAVID E. SANGER

Published: January 20, 2009

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address on Tuesday was a stark repudiation of the era of George W. Bush and the ideological certainties that surrounded it, wrapped in his pledge to drive the United States into “a new age” by reclaiming the values of an older on

Analyzing Obama’s Inaugural Speech

1789 to the Present

Inaugural Words: 1789 to the Present

Photographs From the Inauguration

Photographs From the Inauguration

Critiques of ‘The Speech’

Former speechwriters, including William Safire, critique Barack Obama’s inaugural address.

Analyzing Obama’s Inaugural Speech

It was a delicate task, with Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney sitting feet from him as Mr. Obama, only minutes into his term as president, described the false turns and the roads not taken.

To read his words literally, Mr. Obama blamed no one other than the country itself, critiquing “our collective failure to make hard choices” and a willingness to suspend national ideals “for expedience’s sake” — a clear reference to the cascade of decisions ranging from interrogation policies to wiretapping to the invasion of Iraq.

Yet not since 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a “restoration” of American ethics and “action, and action now” as Herbert Hoover sat and seethed, has a new president so publicly rejected the essence of his predecessor’s path.

When Mr. Obama looked forward, however, he was far less specific about how he would combine his lofty vision and his passion for pragmatism into urgently needed solutions.

Mr. Obama spoke eloquently of the need to “restore science to its rightful place” and to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” But he never acknowledged that his agenda would eventually have to be reconciled with towering budget deficits or spelled out what “unpleasant decisions” he would be willing to make in the service of a renewed America.

At times, Mr. Obama seemed to chastise the nation, quoting Scripture to caution that “the time has come to set aside childish things.” It seemed a call to end an age of overconsumption and the presumption that America had a right to lead the world, a right that he reminded “must be earned.”

The chiding, if most resonant of the last eight years, also harked back to an argument he advanced early in his run for the White House: that the nation had been ill-served by the social, cultural and political divisions of the generation that included Bill Clinton as well as Mr. Bush.

Every time Mr. Obama urged Americans to “choose our better history,” to reject a “false choice” between safety and American ideals and to recognize that American military power does not “entitle us to do as we please,” he was clearly signaling a commitment to remake America’s approach to the world and to embrace pragmatism, not just as a governing strategy but also as a basic value.

It was, in many ways, exactly what one might have expected from a man who propelled himself to the highest office in the land by denouncing how an excess of ideological zeal had taken the nation on a disastrous detour. But what was surprising about the speech was how much he dwelled on the choices America faces, rather than the momentousness of his ascension to the presidency.

Following the course Mr. Obama set during his campaign, he barely mentioned his race. He did not need to. The surroundings said it all as he stood on the steps of a Capitol built by the hands of slaves, and as he placed his own hand on the Bible last used by Abraham Lincoln.

Mr. Obama talked, with echoes of Churchill, of the challenges of taking command of a nation beset by what he called “gathering clouds and raging storms.” As a student of past Inaugural Addresses, he knew what he needed to accomplish. He had to evoke the clarion call for national unity that Lincoln made the centerpiece of his second Inaugural Address, in 1865, married with Franklin Roosevelt’s warning that the market had been allowed to go haywire thanks to the “stubbornness” and “incompetence” of business leaders. And he needed to recall the combination of national inspiration and resoluteness against new enemies that John F. Kennedy delivered in his Inaugural Address, just over six months before Mr. Obama was born.

As his voice and image resonated down the Mall, Mr. Obama spoke across many generations stretching to the Washington Monument and beyond.

Mixed in the crowd were the last remnants of the World War II generation, led by the all-black Tuskegee Airmen for whom Jim Crow was such a daily presence that the arrival of this day seemed unimaginable.

There were middle-aged veterans of the civil rights movement for whom this seemed the crowning achievement of a lifetime of struggles. And there were young Americans — and an overwhelming number of young African-Americans — with no memory of the civil rights movement or of the cold war, for whom Mr. Obama was a symbol of an age of instant messaging, constant networking and integration in every new meaning of the word.

For those three generations, for the veterans who arrived in wheelchairs and the teenagers wearing earphones and tapping on their iPhones, Mr. Obama’s speech was far less important than the moment itself. Many of those who braved the 17 degree chill to swarm onto the Mall at daybreak had said they would not believe America would install a black president until they witnessed him taking the oath of office, even if they had to see it on a Jumbotron a mile from the event.

By the time Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered that oath (and stumbling on a few of the words, leading the new president to do the same), Mr. Obama’s ascendance was so historic that the address became larger than its own language, more imbued with meaning than anything he could say.

And yet what he did say must have come as a bit of a shock to Mr. Bush. No stranger to criticism, over the past eight years he had rarely been forced to sit in silence listening to a speech about how America had gone off the rails on his watch.

Mr. Obama’s recitation of how much had gone wrong was particularly striking to anyone who had followed Mr. Bush around the country, especially during the re-election campaign of 2004, when he said it was his job “to confront problems, not to pass them on to future presidents and future generations.”

Yet Mr. Obama blamed America’s economic peril on an era “of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some,” and talked of how “the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.” It was an explicit critique of an administration that went to war in the Middle East but rejected the shared sacrifice of conservation, and reluctantly embraced the scientific evidence around global warming.

When Mr. Obama turned to foreign policy, he had a more difficult task: to signal to the world that America’s approach would change without appearing to acknowledge that America’s military was dangerously overstretched or that its will for victory would wane after Mr. Bush departed for Texas.

Mr. Obama never rose to the heights of Kennedy’s “pay any price, bear any burden.” Instead, he harked back to the concept that gave birth to the Peace Corps, noting that the cold war was won “not just with missiles and tanks,” but by leaders who understood “that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.”

The new president skirted past the questions of how he would remake American detention policy, how he would set the rules for interrogation and how he would engage Iran and North Korea, beyond promising to “extend a hand” to those willing “to unclench your fist.” He simply promised to strike the balance differently, as America tries to hew to its ideals while pursuing a strategy of silent strength.

Whether he can execute that change is a test that begins Wednesday morning.

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Obama and Martin Luther King

January 21, 2009

The Special Connection Between Obama and King!

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With the constant comparisons between “the dreamer,” Dr. Martin Luther King and President-Elect Barack Obama, it is almost inevitable that even both great men’s fortunes would continue to be tied to to each other. In his recent commentary, former personal counsel, adviser, draft speech writer and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Clarence B. Jones examines this phenomenon in his insightful piece.

Jones assertion is that Obama has tried to minimize his race to attract broad appeal at the expense of lions of the civil rights generation. While their are obvious contrasts between Obama and King, Jones feels if the President-elect has not gone far enough to make that connection and in his estimation that has been a mistake.

“January 15th, 2009 will mark what would have been the 80th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. On January 19th we commemorate Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday. The following day, “January 20th, a country that, within living memory, denied some black citizens the right to vote will inaugurate its first black president. A man with a funny name and African blood will stand where 43 white men have stood before him and take the oath of office.”

August 28th, 2008 in Denver, Colorado, Senator Obama accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination as its candidate for president of the United States. His acceptance speech was 40 years to the day of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. At the time I thought it would have been appropriate for Senator Obama, in his speech to the Democratic Party National Convention, to specifically acknowledge the historic coincidence of his nomination on the 40th Anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream.”

Presumably, Senator Obama, his advisors and speech writers concluded that a passing reference to “a preacher from Georgia” 40 years ago in the acceptance speech was sufficient acknowledgment of the coincidence of both his and Dr. King’s historic address to the “March On Washington” on the same date, August 28th, 1963.

Respectfully, I’d suggest that was a mistake.

Now that Obama has become America’s first African-American president elect, I hope that in his inaugural address, the day following our national holiday commemorating Dr. King’s birthday, he will make specific reference to the confluence of these two historic events in our nation’s capital.

Recently I spent a week in Paris as the guest of the French organization, SOS Racisme. My invitation was part of Paris’s celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Ninth World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates and commemoration of the legacy of Dr. King, 40 years after his death.

Nobel Laureates F. W. de Klerk of South Africa (1993 joint recipient with Nelson Mandela), David Hume of Northern Ireland, Ingrid Betancourt (former presidential candidate in Columbia, and a prisoner of the FARC guerillas for several years), and Lech Walesa of Poland gathered to bestow their annual “Peace Award” on Bono, the Irish musician and political activist. (Mikhail Gorbachev was absent because of medical reasons.) First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy and Bertrand Delanoe, Mayor of Paris were also present.

The questions most asked of me during the Conference were:

Is Barack Obama another Martin Luther King, Jr?

What would Dr. King say about the election of Obama?

Is the election of Obama as the first African-American president of the United States mean that Dr. King’s dream has been fulfilled?

Did I ever think an African-American would become president of the United States 40 years after the death of Dr. King?

Does Obama’s election indicate that racism for all practical purposes no longer exist in America?

Will Obama’s election have any impact upon the number of African-American men incarcerated of the high percentage of out of wedlock births within the African-American community?

Having witnessed history first-hand with Dr. King and being fortunate to be one of his few advisors to live to witness the history-in-the-making that is the Obama presidency, I uniquely bridge a gap. I have both the honor and the responsibility to try and answer the overarching question: What would Martin Luther King, Jr. say about Senator Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States?

Dr. King had an abiding belief in the basic goodness, fairness and decency of America. He never abandoned his confidence that a majority of Americans would ultimately embrace the precepts of our Declaration of Independence: That all persons are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

He never doubted or lost faith in his religion, nor the righteousness of God. Martin would probably smile and say “Amen” as he listened to Senator Obama say, more than once, during the closing weeks of his presidential campaign that we have a “righteous wind at our back, but we can’t slow down now.”

To read the rest of Jones’ commentary, click here.


Obama Ushers a New Era…

January 21, 2009

  • Sober Obama speech draws on surprising sources

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  • Story Highlights
  • Only whispers of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. heard in speech
  • American patriot Thomas Paine seems to have been an influence
  • Other noted references: President Kennedy, Shakespeare and Abraham from Bible

By Richard Allen Greene
CNN

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Barack Obama, who shot from obscurity to fame based on a single speech and then captured the White House in a campaign marked by soaring rhetoric, delivered a restrained, sober inaugural address Tuesday.

American patriot Thomas Paine seems to have informed some of the spirit of President Obama's inaugural speech.

American patriot Thomas Paine seems to have informed some of the spirit of President Obama’s inaugural speech.

Gone was the mantra-like “Yes we can” chanted by supporters, which Obama invoked as a refrain right through his victory speech on Election Night.

Largely absent, too, were citations from the two historical figures on whose shoulders Obama stood Tuesday — Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom he quoted on the night of his triumph in November.

He took his oath of office on Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural Bible, closing a circle of symbolism that began when he declared his candidacy for president two years ago on the same spot in Illinois where Lincoln launched his own first campaign.

But other than mentioning “the lash of the whip,” an echo of Lincoln’s towering second inaugural address, and “gathering clouds and raging storms,” Obama did not seem to quote the 16th president.

And, perhaps thinking that the simple fact of an African-American being sworn in as president was sufficiently drenched with significance, he made only the most glancing reference to King. “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers,” Obama said, a contemporary variation on King’s hope that “Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics” would one day join hands and sing.

In fact, if the speech could be said to have an animating spirit, it was that of Thomas Paine, the great 18th-century pamphleteer who played a key role in the American and French revolutions.

Obama referred to “the rights of man,” the title of a book Paine wrote in praise of the French Revolution.

And his speech ended with a long quote from Paine that George Washington ordered read to his troops when the revolt looked bleak for the Colonies: “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.)”

The passage comes from Paine’s critical 1776 essay “The Crisis,” which famously begins:  “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Indeed, Obama used the word “crisis” four times in his speech — one more time than he used the word perhaps most closely identified with him: Hope.

“That we are in the midst of a crisis is now well-understood,” Obama said, in a speech that warned Americans to prepare for a long, hard — but certain — slog toward better days.

He drew on the touchstones of American civic life, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, with phrases such as “we the people,” “common defense” and “all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

He nodded towards John F. Kennedy with a reference to “rising tides of prosperity” and Franklin Roosevelt in saying Americans had chosen “hope over fear.” And he seemed to carry on a bit of an argument with Ronald Reagan, listing key battlefields in American history (“Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sahn”), as Reagan did in his first inaugural, but rejecting the most famous phrase from that speech.

“Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem,” Reagan declared in 1981.

No, Obama seemed to respond 28 years later, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works. … Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end … because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

He also borrowed a notion associated with Reagan, but running through American history right back to the Puritans, who in turn took it from the book of Isaiah: that American ideals “still light the world.”

And his conclusion bookended the two great sources of quotes in the English language, Shakespeare and the Bible.

America, he said, may be experiencing “this winter of our hardship” — riffing on Richard III’s “winter of our discontent” — but will prove “when we were tested” — as Abraham was by God — “we refused to let this journey end … 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.”

Schneider: Tone of Obama speech right for the times

By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Obama’s inaugural address was cooler, more measured and reassuring than that of other presidents making it, perhaps, the right speech for the times.

President Obama renewed his call for a massive plan to stimulate economic growth.

President Obama renewed his call for a massive plan to stimulate economic growth.

Some inaugural addresses are known for their soaring, inspirational language. Like John F. Kennedy’s in 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

Obama’s address was less stirring, perhaps, but it was also more candid and down-to-earth.

“Starting today,” the new president said, “we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of remaking America.”

At a time of crisis, a president needs to be reassuring. Like Franklin Roosevelt, who said in his first inaugural in 1933, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Or Bill Clinton, who took office during the economic crisis of the early 1990s. “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with America,” Clinton declared at his first inaugural.

Obama, too, offered reassurance.

“We gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord,” Obama said.

Obama’s call to unity after decades of political division echoed Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address in 1861. Even though he delivered it at the onset of a terrible civil war, Lincoln’s speech was not a call to battle. It was a call to look beyond the war, toward reconciliation based on what he called “the better angels of our nature.”

Some presidents used their inaugural address to set out a bold agenda.

  • At his first inaugural in 1981, Ronald Reagan said, “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” George W. Bush defined the essence of the neoconservative agenda when he said at his 2005 inaugural, “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.”

President Obama did talk about having “big plans.” But he insisted they be practical.

“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small,” Obama said, “but whether it works.”

Obama certainly knows how to be stirring. And he was at least once in his inaugural address when he talked about his new approach to diplomacy.

“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,” Obama declared, “but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Are you listening, Iran?

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Obama’s was a cool speech, not a hot speech. That’s what a lot of people like about the new president. He’s reassuring — “No-Drama Obama.”

At a time of mounting national anxiety, cool is good.