Archive for the ‘inaugural’ Category

Fixing America: Obama Challenges us To Beat Back Raging Consumerism and Metastasizing Celebrity Culture

January 25, 2009

Feckless as it was for Bush to ask Americans to go shopping after 9/11, we all too enthusiastically followed his lead, whether we were wealthy, working-class or in between. We spent a decade feasting on easy money, don’t-pay-as-you-go consumerism and a metastasizing celebrity culture. We did so while a supposedly cost-free, off-the-books war, usually out of sight and out of mind, helped break the bank along with our nation’s spirit and reputation.

By Frank Rich
The New York Times

We can’t keep blaming 43 for everything, especially now that we don’t have him to kick around anymore. On Tuesday the new president pointedly widened his indictment beyond the sins of his predecessor. He spoke of those at the economic pinnacle who embraced greed and irresponsibility as well as the rest of us who collaborated in our “collective failure to make hard choices.” He branded as sub-American those who “prefer leisure over work or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.” And he wasn’t just asking Paris Hilton “to set aside childish things.” As Linda Hirshman astutely pointed out on The New Republic’s Web site, even Obama’s opening salutation — “My fellow citizens,” not “fellow Americans” — invoked the civic responsibilities we’ve misplaced en masse.

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Barack Obama inauguration: his worst speech

January 21, 2009

QUITE a day, but not much of speech unfortunately. Obama got where he is by speechifying, but this effort would not have won him many votes. It was his worst on a grand stage, though still better than most politicians could muster.

The delivery, as ever, was first class, but the message was wasn’t clear enough and the language not insufficiently inspiring.

By Alex Spillius
The Telegraph (UK)

As soon as the applause had died down, an African American standing man near me on the Mall said to his friend: “I thought the speech was shit.” Another woman said, correctly, that “we had heard it all before at other events”.

In a way Obama was a victim of his own success. Having given so many dynamic speeches he had set his own bar very high. What he tried to do at his inauguration was tell Americans that they had to sacrifice to make gains, while making them believe this was well within their capabilities. The emphasis on sacrifice was too weak however. 

To the disappointment of many black people in the crowd, he also made but one reference to the enormity of a black man occupying the White House for the first time. Obama has never laboured the issue of his race, but on this historic day the issue needed more.

Jon Favreau, his co-writer, recently admitted that he had been pouring over previous inaugural speeches. That might have been a bad idea. Obama seemed weighed down by the past, and failed to seize the moment.

Read the rest:

On Inauguration Day, One Nation

January 21, 2009

Time and again, incoming presidents point Americans toward unity. Jefferson did so in the great debate over strong central government. Lincoln did when slavery cleaved the country. Now, after decades of cultural and political polarization and in the face of great challenges, it’s Barack Obama‘s turn at choirmaster for the nation’s disparate voices.

Americans excel at pulling together when needed. Look no further than last week’s Hudson River emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549, which combined the expertise of the pilots, the quick response of harbor boats, and the calm aid of crew and passengers.

But such common effort reaches far beyond a crisis, back over the centuries to the ideals that set the American experiment apart.

The diverse faces of the millions who came to witness the swearing in of the country’s first African-American president testify to what ultimately unifies. It’s not ethnicity or religious creed, which define so many nations, but the founding ideals of the United States – liberty, justice, and opportunity for all.

When put into practice, they attract and inspire the world over. They are the reason many in other countries tuned in to President Obama’s inauguration and sent e-mails like this one: “Today, I feel like an American, too.”

These values have had the power to throw off a monarchy, abolish slavery, and make way for women’s suffrage. They have been worth suffering and dying for. They have plied the decades, refining and improving laws and behaviors until almost unawares, they produced a president whose very identity embodies unity as none before him has, and whose personal story is a nonfiction American dream.

As a candidate, Mr. Obama campaigned on oneness. In the weeks since the election, he has put that concept into practice: in his Cabinet, in reaching out to Republicans (including his opponent, John McCain), and in meeting with conservative columnists. He appears to be not just asking for input, but listening. As Jefferson pointed out, woe to that democracy that does not protect minority interests.

Obama repeatedly states that his will be an administration influenced by what works, by empirical evidence – not by party ideology. He’s set a tone that honors that of his political hero, Lincoln: “With malice toward none, with charity for all.” Applied consistently, it may earn him charity in return when he disappoints either side – as he will.

So far, Obama’s having a unifying effect. Forty-seven percent of voters rejected him on Nov. 4, yet a New York Times/CBS News poll shows 79 percent of Americans are optimistic about the next four years under the new president – a level of support greater than that of the past five incoming chiefs.

It’s a tall order, bringing a country together. But Obama is reaching beyond political bridge-building – as hard as that is – to a spiritual union grounded in individuals caring for each other, what he calls “a new era of responsibility.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt hinted at the same in his first inaugural: “These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”

As America’s 44th president recognizes, the job ahead belongs to all of us.

From the Christian Science Monitor

Rick Warren Inaugural Prayer Transcript

January 21, 2009

Let us pray.

Almighty God, our Father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you. It all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory.

History is your story. The Scripture tells us, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One.” And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.

Now, today, we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time. We celebrate a hingepoint of history with the inauguration of our first African American president of the United States. We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.

Give to our new President, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders.

Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race, or religion, or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all. When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us. And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.

Help us to share, to serve and to seek the common good of all. May all people of goodwill today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you. We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus, who taught us to pray:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

Update: Video of Warren’s prayer

Dr. Rick Warren delivers the invocation during President Barack ... 
Dr. Rick Warren delivers the invocation during President Barack Obama’s Inauguration in Washington, January 20, 2009. Obama became the 44th President of the United States today.REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES)

Inauguration Crowd on Steroids; Event Participants Needed Xanax

January 21, 2009

The Chinese would have seen so many bad omens they’d mostly call President Obama “Not Lucky” after yesterday’s Inauguration.

The oath was botched.

Two Senators needed medical attention before the end of lunch.

Rick Warren’s prayer was only applauded by his Mom, apparently.

The Speech? Gerard Baker of The Times in London was looking for some “Kennedy-esque, or Rooseveltian quotations for the ages.”

He was disappointed.

The crowd was on steroids.  The event participants needed Xanax.

But, like a family wedding that features a drunken uncle or broken china, the job got done.

So, enough fol-de-rol.  Let’s get to work.

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel gestures prior ... 
Incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel gestures prior to the inauguration ceremony of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, in Washington, January 20, 2009.REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES)

Obama Inauguration: Unforgettable Moment, ‘Subdued’ Speech

January 21, 2009

Unforgettable. Historic.  A massive outpouring of feeling, emotion, joy.  High hopes.  The throng of crowds and watchers world-wide.

That’s the lasting memory of Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009.

Much was tied to race in America, the shadow of slavery somehow mythically lifted, renewed hope and promise.

How could words meet the expectation? The moment?

Political speech writers and the politicians themselves cannot lip synch like rock stars what worked before.  Most Americans know the words to Barack’s Greatest Hits; so how can that be surpassed?

It has to be surpassed by history not yet written, not yet made.

The inauguration speech was a little like a Bono concert in an acoustically flawed arena; or with a bad back up group.  It lacked greatness.

Gerard Baker of The Times in London was looking for some “Kennedy-esque, or Rooseveltian quotations for the ages.”

Bill Schneider of CNN wrote it was “the right speech for the times.”

Peggy Noonan said, “the Inaugural Address itself was somewhat subdued.”

I, too, longed to find the words that would one day be etched into granite, like “Ask not what your country can do for you….”

So maybe this was not the time nor the place for such a speech that would always be overshadowed by the moment, the feeling, the history anyway….

On days like this, speeches can become covenants.  So maybe Barack Obama was smart enough to know, the words future generations remember, the words that record his greatness contributed to America,  the words someday etched  into stone, are yet to come.

John E. Carey
Wakefield Chapel, Virginia

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) gets a thumbs up from his daughter ...               
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) gets a thumbs up from his daughter Sasha after taking the Oath of Office as the 44th President of the United States, during the inauguration ceremony in Washington January 20, 2009.REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES)

Obama Delivers A Speech of Realism that Failed To Hit the Heights

Text of President Barack Obama’s inaugural address 

President Obama’s Inaugural Speech: “The time has come to set aside childish things”

The expectations were high:
Obama: Nation’s Hopes Never Higher, Times Seldom Tougher, Give Us Your Highest Vision

CNN (Bill Schneider):

Peggy Noonan:

President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, ... 

Obama’s first words — “I stand here today humbled by the task before us” — echoed the first paragraph of the first inaugural address.

“He is as much symbol as substance, an icon for the youth and a sign of deliverance for an older generation that never believed a man with his skin color would ascend those steps,” said the International Herald Tribune.

What a great moment!


Obama Delivers A Speech of Realism that Failed To Hit the Heights

January 21, 2009

In the historic vastness of the moment, the unique and unprecedented nature of the event, there was always a risk that the message itself would be overshadowed. At the swearing-in of America’s first African-American President, amid crowds on a scale never witnessed before in Washington, and in all the usual pomp and pageantry of a presidential inauguration, the great set-piece inaugural speech – even from a highly accomplished orator – was in danger of being eclipsed.

But this was Barack Obama, now President Barack Obama, and if anyone’s oratory can rise to even the highest occasion, it is surely his.

And yet, perhaps because the US is confronting its gravest set of circumstances in at least a generation, and perhaps because of the weight of expectations of all those millions of people waiting for a touch of the magic of his famed rhetoric, this was not an occasion on which his oratory soared.

By Gerard Baker
Times (UK)

There were few truly memorable pieces of phraseology – no Kennedy-esque, or Rooseveltian quotations for the ages.

He laboured hard to echo the tone and cadence of his biggest campaign performances. And there was more than a hint of a self-conscious echo – distractingly – of the speeches of his hero and fellow Illinoisan, Abraham Lincoln.

The language in particular sounded decidedly 19th century in parts – all those commands to “know” some or other intent of US policy, all those glancing biblical references.

But it wasn’t up to Lincoln’s standards – which perhaps is asking too much. In fact, it may not have been really memorable at all. It’s unlikely that most people will remember a phrase from it a few weeks from now, let alone a century. In fairness it was a speech more obviously measured to the practical immensity of the immediate challenges. It was directed at two audiences: a hopeful but anxious one at home, and an uncertain but hopeful one overseas.

To the global audience, Mr Obama signalled, perhaps more sharply than expected, the different path he intends to take from that of his predecessor.

In remarks that presaged important policy announcements in the next few days, President Obama indicated that the way he prosecutes the war on terrorism will change markedly from George W. Bush’s approach.

“As for our common defence, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” In the next few days he is expected to order the eventual closure of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp and to bar harsh interrogation treatment of detainees.

“Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expediency’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.”

And though Mr Obama warned terrorists that the US would pursue and defeat them, and he promised to disengage from Iraq and achieve victory in Afghanistan, perhaps most striking was the distinction between Mr Obama’s inaugural tone and that of Mr Bush’s second inauguration four years ago.

There was no reference yesterday to committing the US to the eradication of tyranny in the world. Instead, Mr Obama contented himself with warning tyrants that they were on “the wrong side of history”.

But the bulk of his speech, and his focus, was on the domestic challenges facing his Administration. All new presidents like to convey the message that the country is in desperate need of a new direction, even when things are going swimmingly. But no one seriously questions the scale of the economic mess that now confronts the US and the loss of national self-confidence is almost palpable.

Mr Obama promised that an activist Government would move quickly on a massive stimulus programme of public spending. But he asked for patience from the American people, warning that it would take time for measures to work. The new President also warned

Obama must deliver after lofty address

January 21, 2009

Barack Obama proved he could smash America’s ultimate racial barrier and deliver a soaring speech, such as his inaugural address, which both mesmerized and inspired the masses.

But starting Wednesday, history will judge President Obama not for the color barrier he hurdled but for the competency he demonstrates. And those who marveled at the delivery of his oratory will now demand he deliver on his promises.

By Donald Lambro
The Washington Times

 Obama Inauguration: Unforgettable Moment, Pedestrian Speech (And That’s O.K.)

The task will not be easy in a turbulent world dominated by war and economic collapse, especially for a young president who on Tuesday promised action as far-reaching as harnessing the sun, raising health care’s quality while lowering its costs, and enacting fixes “bold and swift” for an ailing economy many believe will take years to heal.

Mr. Obama acknowledged Tuesday there are those who have doubts about the magnitude of his plans. “There are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans,” he said. “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.”

But many of the historical triumphs he cited in his address took decades to secure. His presidency can only last four or eight years.

Ronald Reagan, the last president who left office at the height of his popularity, was considered a successful president because he dealt with two big issues: pulling the country out of a deep recession and fostering the collapse of the Soviet Union.

If Mr. Obama can just fix the economy, put the country back on the road to prosperity and slay trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, he will go down in history as one of our noteworthy presidents. But he believes — and right now apparently the country does, too — that he can do much more.

The latest Gallup Poll found last week that nearly two-thirds of Americans are confident he will turn out to be a successful president. “Obama is the beneficiary of more goodwill than his recent predecessors, and expectations of him are extraordinarily high,” polling analyst Karlyn Bowman said.

But many Americans remain deeply pessimistic about the economy and their own circumstances. A Zogby Interactive poll released last week says less than 5 percent are feeling positive about the economy and describes only one-third as positive about their own financial situation.

Promises are the mother’s milk of American politics, but it is difficult to remember an incoming president who has made as many as Mr. Obama has over the course of his campaign, including fixing Social Security’s and Medicare’s mounting insolvency, looming like Mount Everest on the political horizon.

After years of an unpopular administration beset by war, recession and natural disaster, Mr. Obama has promised a new era of competence that would grapple with and cure the nation’s most insoluble ills.

He said he would “not only create new jobs,” but lay a new foundation of growth. He would build the roads and bridges, install new electric grids and lay the digital lines that “bind us together.”

He promised to restore science “to its rightful place,” unleash “technology’s wonders,” “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories,” “transform our schools and colleges and universities. All this we can do. And all this we will do.”

It was a breathtaking performance of monumental proportions, one he had successfully road-tested across the land. He believes he inherits a country ready for a big-spending revolution to tackle all of the difficulties and that he can tackle them all. Trillion-dollar deficits and the political intractability of Washington will soon test his mettle.

Mr. Reagan assumed office saying that government is the problem, not the solution, and Bill Clinton said the era of big government is over. But Mr. Obama wants to move that debate onto an entirely different plane: competence.

“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,” he said.

“Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

The electorate will soon begin keeping the official scorecard.

Brit View of Obama on Inauguration Day

January 20, 2009

“‘Only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now.”

By Toby Harnden, US Editor in Washington
The Telegraph
An economic crisis and a collapse of confidence in American capitalism.

The departure of a reviled predecessor who bequeathed an unpopular war.

These were the challenges faced, respectively, by presidents Abraham Lincoln in 1861, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 and Gerald Ford – the last United States commander-in-chief to arrive from Congress – in 1974.

President Barack Obama will have to deal with not just one of these situations but all three. Not only that but the expectations of him in some quarters, which aides are now frantically trying to manage, border on the divine.

Like John F. Kennedy in 1961, he arrives as a former Senator with an attractive young family who has just broken through a historic barrier and upon whose shoulders the hopes and dreams of Americans now rest.

Of these four former presidents, two were cut down in their prime by an assassin’s bullet and have been judged reverently by historians. Mr Roosevelt completed two terms and is judged as a great president. Mr Ford, however, was rejected by voters and only in death was accorded a verdict of grudging, and limited admiration.

While great challenges present the opportunity for a president to make his mark on history, falling short in testing times is a quick route to ignominy.

The signs for Mr Obama are propitious. His predecessor George W. Bush departed office with an approval rating of just 22 per cent, making him the most unpopular outgoing president since polls began after plummeting from record poll support after the September 11 attacks of 2001.

As the first black president of a nation founded by slave owners, Mr Obama has a deep well of goodwill from which to draw. Already, he has enough political capital to act boldly and risk making some mistakes.

During the 77-day transition of power, the former Illinois senator has drawn praise even from his detractors for a deliberate and well planned organisation – helped greatly by gracious co-operation from Mr Bush – that avoided the pitfalls and chaos that so many incoming presidents fell victim to.

Mr Obama himself has hailed his post-election efficiency, highlighting another potential problem – a self-confidence that occasionally borders on smugness.

“Early on, maybe we made it look too easy,” he said last week. “I think people should just remember what we accomplished here. We put a cabinet and White House staff in place in record time in the midst of the biggest emergency since World War Two. That’s a pretty good track record.”

Mr Obama’s most significant move has been to enlist his campaign opponent Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. But while this may have neutralised a potential enemy, he also runs the risk of allowing the former First Lady – who still harbours presidential ambitions for 2012 – to build up a rival power base from within.

He might also have sowed the seeds of disillusionment among some of his more idealistic activists, who took him at his word when he said he would change politics and draw a line under the Bush-Clinton White House years stretching back to 1988.

Now, Mr Obama is filling his administration with former Clinton advisers and it is an open question whether this strategy is clever magnanimity or folly.

Invoking a spirit of bipartisanship, Mr Obama has kept on Robert Gates, Mr Bush’s Pentagon chief, and assiduously wooed Senator John McCain, his general election opponent and a foreign policy hawk.

Mr Obama has been lauded for dining with conservative columnists in Washington. But this olive branch might owe more to a concern about shaping elite opinion as it does to a genuine desire to take heed of opposing viewpoints.

In his career thus far, Mr Obama’s bipartisanship has seldom extended much further than the rhetorical flourishes of his speeches.

Already, Mr Obama has tempered some of his more liberal campaign pronouncements, even praising Dick Cheney, who has a public approval rating of 13 per cent and was branded by his successor Joe Biden as “the most dangerous vice president we’ve had”, for advocating caution over changing legal and intelligence rules.

After Mr Cheney said tartly that “before you start to implement your campaign rhetoric you need to sit down and find out precisely what it is we did and how we did it” Mr Obama responded: “I think that was pretty good advice.”

Although Mr Obama intends to issue an executive order directing the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp after seven years, his aides concede that it may take at least a year to achieve this. Freeing inmates, he concedes, could put America at grave risk.

In his November 4 victory speech, Mr Obama proclaimed “to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world” that “a new dawn of American leadership is at hand”.

The reality might not be quite so simple. Israel used the transition to mount a ferocious assault on Gaza in a blatant attempt to change the facts on the ground before the new president was sworn in.

Nothing Mr Obama said on the campaign trail indicated he would depart from America’s traditional staunch support of Israel. The domestic financial crisis, moreover, not to mention the weakening of Israel’s peace lobby, is likely to limit the chances of a serious attempt at negotiating a Middle East peace in his first term.

Elected on the basis on ending the Iraq war, Mr Obama will need to safeguard the gains the Iraq troop surge – which he opposed – if he is to keep the US on the path to victory.

In Afghanistan – the “good” war for which Mr Obama has pledged his own troop surge – the dangers of troops becoming bogged down and facing an ever-fiercer insurgency are acute.

Among Mr Bush’s greatest achievements has been to prevent an attack in the more than seven years since al-Qaeda struck the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, slaughtering more than 3,000.

While Mr Obama’s pledge to outlaw torture and follow international law have earned him international plaudits, American opinion could turn swiftly against him if he is blamed for leaving his country vulnerable to Islamist extremists.

Mr Bush’s unpopularity abroad has tended to mask the extent to which many of his policies have been fairly standard approaches to promoting enduring American interests. The world might well be disappointed to find out that Mr Obama might not adopt a radically different foreign policy.

During the campaign, a loose-lipped Mr Biden warned that Mr Obama would face an early test by terrorists or a hostile foreign power. In 1993, President Bill Clinton has to respond to an attempt to blow up the World Trade Centre in New York and deal with a failed American humanitarian mission in Somalia.

Mr Bush’s aversion to “nation building” and plans for a “humble” foreign policy were shelved after the 9/11 attacks. Mr Obama is likely to face challenges that could knock him off course and make him question his foreign policy instincts.

Asked by a homeless shelter worker on Tuesday whether he was sweating, Mr Obama – a supremely fit 47-year-old who is devoted to the gym and basketball – responded: “Nah, I don’t sweat. You ever see me sweat?” Keeping his cool in government might be more of a challenge than he imagines.

As Christopher Hitchens, who voted for Mr Obama put it this week, “there’s an element of hubris in all this current hope-mongering”.

While many presidents have entered the White House with similarly thin foreign policy experience, few have been as green as Mr Obama.

A United States Senator for a mere four years, he has never held executive office and it remains to be seen how his calm, deliberate manner will translate into dealing with the hurly-burly of governing and unexpected events.

Mr Obama prides himself on his normality and his ability to relate to ordinary Americans. As recently as 2000, he made an ill-fated trip to Los Angeles in which he had his credit card rejected and failed to gain admittance to the Democratic party convention. Four years ago, he could shop in Washington unmolested.

Already, Mr Obama is chafing against being inside “the bubble”, insulated from life beyond his inner circle. Against the advice of his lawyers, he appears poised to keep his beloved BlackBerry, a link to the outside world.

But power and security – already at unprecedented levels for Mr Obama – can be distorting. Mr Bush was mocked for declaring himself “the decider”, as if it did not matter what anyone else thought.

Responding In November to claims that his appointment of Clinton associates was an abandonment of his campaign slogan of “change”, Mr Obama seemed to say that he was the personification of change and his very presence should be enough to reassure.

“Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost,” he said. “It comes from me.”

The comedian Chris Rock has compared Mr Obama to a celebrity who is beyond mockery. “There’s no Brad Pitt jokes. You know, what are you going to say? “Ooh, you used to have sex with Jennifer Anniston. Now you have sex with Angelina Jolie. You’re such a loser. There’s nothing to say about Brad Pitt.”

Mr Obama was similar. “It’s like ‘Ooh, you’re young and virile and you’ve got a beautiful wife and kids. You’re the first African-American president.’ You know, what do you say?” As president, however, this sweet spot cannot last and one of Mr Obama’s biggest tests might come when his poll ratings slip and, as he inevitably will, he occasionally looks a little foolish.

Mr Obama’s inauguration speech contained clear echoes of Mr Kennedy’s 1961 address. The former Massachusetts senator called for patience, telling Americans: “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days.

Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime… But let us begin.”

Mr Kennedy also called Americans to service with the famous exhortation: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country… My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

But Mr Kennedy proved to be a cautious even timid president and, buffeted by events and slowed by a desire to remain popular, Mr Obama might yet be slow to match the fineness of his words with effective action.

Recognising the daunting task ahead of him, Mr Obama told crowds on Monday: “‘Only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now.

“Our nation is at war, our economy is in crisis. Millions of Americans are losing their jobs and their homes. They’re worried about how they’ll afford college for their kids or pay the stack of bills on their kitchen tables.

“And most of all, they are anxious and uncertain about the future, about whether this generation of Americans will be able to pass on what’s best about this country to our children and their children.”

The fact that the economic crisis erupted in the final days of the Bush administration will allow Mr Obama some respite. The nearly one trillion dollars he will be able to release in economic stimulus funds could pay for many of his campaign spending promises.

But Wednesday, which new White House aides are calling “day one”, will mark the moment when Mr Obama’s uncommon eloquence and ability to encapsulate America’s ills will become mere prologue.

If can overcome the huge challenges that he spoken of so lyrically then greatness awaits him. But other new presidents who have promised to change Washington and usher in a new era have found that events and the limits of the power of the White House have conspired to stifle their dreams.

President Obama’s Inaugural Speech: “The time has come to set aside childish things”

January 20, 2009

Wondering if his publisher liked the manuscript of “Les Misérables,” Victor Hugo sent a terse note: “?” His publisher replied as tersely: “!” That was the nation’s response to Barack Obama’s inaugural address, even though — or perhaps because — one of his themes, delicately implied, was that Americans do not just have a problem, they are a problem.

“The time has come,” he said pointedly, “to set aside childish things.” Things, presumably, such as the pandemic indiscipline that has produced a nation of households as overleveraged as is the government from which the householders insistently demand more goods and services than they are willing to pay for. “We remain,” the president said, “a young nation.” Which, even if true, would be no excuse for childishness. And it is not true. The United States is older, as a national polity, than Germany or Italy, among many others.

By George F. Will
The Washington Post

President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, ... 

Obama‘s first words — “I stand here today humbled by the task before us” — echoed the first paragraph of the first inaugural address. George Washington, although elected unanimously by the electoral college, confessed “anxieties” and adopted the tone of a servant “called” to crushing duties:

“The magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence one who (inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration) ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.”

Read the rest: