Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I watched the inauguration today, as I imagined most of us did. For a speech upon which so many expectations were placed, Obama's was pretty damn good. It actually managed to meet, and in some cases exceed, my own lofty expectations. And of course, afterward, I flipped around from channel to channel, because how do you really know a speech was great unless you hear it from pundits? And of course I heard many of those pundits (thank you, FOX) saying things like "it's all well and good to talk the talk, now we wait to see if he can walk the walk". Of course, they say things like that dismissively, clearly believing that he can't walk the walk, and boy, America, are you ever screwed. Your country has been fooled by pretty words and rhetoric, and your hopes will all come crashing down soon...and so on and so forth.

It occurred to me, however, watching this, that this kind of partisan punditry misses the point. Even the pundits on the other side miss the point, a lot of the time. Pretty words and rhetoric are not just the window-dressing on what could be an empty vessel. They are an end in and of themselves. The ability to inspire people can't be understated. The fact that Obama is inspirational enough a figure to bring two million people to his inauguration today is already the achievement of one of his stated goals. Unity and hope. Inspiring hope in Americans is the best way to reverse the economic downturn. It is the only way to get them to set aside social, political and racial divisions. And inspiration is something that no president in my lifetime has been able to provide to this extent. I would imagine that no president, ever, has been able to inspire people on this level.

If all Obama does in his first four years is inspire, he has already done more than his predecessor. If he does nothing else but create hope in the American people, he has already reached several of his goals. And if he can extend that hope and inspiration to the rest of the world, and all appearances are that he can and already has, then he has perhaps done more for the world than any figure in recent memory. Even if he is unable to enact any new policies, even if he can't get half the things done that he wants to do, as long as his words ring true and people believe, he is doing something monumental. And the only way his words will begin to fall on deaf ears is if he starts to become disingenuous, in the same way the previous administration was disingenuous.

Or, a better word, would be "lies". This is what makes me hopeful for the American people - the previous president was forced to lie, to be dishonest, in order to get Americans to get behind the invasion of Iraq. And the reason was - if Americans knew the war was about oil, they would not have accepted it. And as soon as the Americans realized, on a large scale, that Bush and his inner circle had falsified the reasons for going to war, they turned away en masse. And from that moment on, Bush couldn't do anything right. So all Obama has to do, in order to be better than his predecessor, is continue to use pretty words and oratory to make Americans feel better. The only way his words will lose their power is if he goes the Bush route and starts making stuff up. I expect that he will not do that. And on that basis alone, he will be one of the great presidents of the United States.

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