The world wide web today is, understandably, awash with information and opinions on the inauguration of America’s 44th President, Barack Obama. Rather than attempt to add to the noise in my bleary-eyed state (yes, I watched Obama in Pyjamas), please find below the observations of Washington Post reporter Chris Cilliza.
Somber and Serious: Obama’s address was almost entirely free of campaign style rhetoric or obvious applause lines. Its seriousness of tone contrasted sharply with the mood of the masses gathered to hear it; in the run up to the inauguration chants of “Obama” rang through the crowd and even afterward the crowd was in a feisty mood — offering mocks cheers and waving goodbye as former President George W. Bush flew overhead in a helicopter. Not so, Obama who, right from the start of his speech made clear that this was no partisan address; he talked of “gathering clouds and raging storms” and the need at a time as dire as this one for all Americans to do their part to make the nation great again.
Grounded in History: Not surprisingly given the President’s interest in past men who have held the office, the speech was grounded heavily in the series of historical events that led to a black man named Barack Obama to be sworn in as the nation’s 44th president. “For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life,” said Obama. “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 Sahn.” The rhetoric was powerful — one of Obama’s best moments in a speech that was as workman like as it was soaring; it ably connected the struggles and triumphs of the past to the struggles and triumphs of today and beyond.
A Break from the Past: While Obama’s speech was not the sort of red-meat that some of the partisans in the crowd might have wanted, he made clear that the next four years would not be like the last eight. That break was particularly pronounced when Obama spoke of the nation’s “common defense” — an area where many liberals, moderates and even some conservatives believe Bush took the country off on a very wrong track. “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” Obama intoned to cheers, adding shortly after: “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.”
Race Matters: Obama made clear from his very first days as a candidate that he was someone running for president who happened to be black, not a black man running for president. But, in the speech today, Obama acknowledged how far African Americans had come in the country with one poignant line. “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.” Powerful stuff.
If you have thoughts of your own on the history we just witnessed, feel free to share them in comments below.