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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

People Power: Immediate Thoughts on the Inaugural

Well, all in all a pretty impressive ceremony. I can’t say Rick Warren would be my first choice, but I can see the ‘unity’ logic behind it. Aretha was great (especially the little ‘Georgia’ riff). I’m not sure you could imagine a better quartet (though the annoying commentators on the BBC talked through half of the piece.) And Obama’s speech was strong, sensible, thoughtful.

No-one who’s followed him at all can have been all that surprised by its content, but I was certainly impressed once again by his considered construction and delivery. Sounds silly, but I was struck that this is a man who’s willing to use long sentences... or at least longer ones than the seven-word norm that’s the usual limit in the sound-bite era. Obama expresses his intelligence with an unashamed clarity, doesn’t apologise for being smart, and proceeds from a certain faith that the public will respond to someone who doesn’t assume they’re stupid, rather than hate them for being pretentious or uppity. Hopefully his example will encourage more politicians to have a little faith in people, to stop talking down to them all the time. And the George Washington imagery at the end, I thought, was great. An interesting choice, given that we all expected more Lincoln and FDR than revolutionary war. But it worked well in the context of the central point about national sacrifice, expressed elsewhere in his remarks condemning an era of greedy self-interest by elites, an unwillingness to make tough choices by the public, and of a refusal to compromise principles for expediency. I think this ceremony has, in one shot, put back the ‘Bush legacy’ project at least two years!

All that said, and all praise due President Obama, it was Reverend Lowery who took the biscuit for me. When he took the microphone to talk, the authentic voice of the civil rights movement finally arrived, a voice that guides much of Obama’s politics, but isn’t the quite same as him, and – if truth be told – transcends his experience in its multitudes. A friend of mine said to me that Lowery’s voice was like a gravelly jazz trumpet; his words resonated along the Mall and back through the decades to MLK’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial; he was the one person truly to engage the ceremonialism on the steps of the Capitol with the people who watched all around: through humour, and through the call and response at the end of his benediction.

After all, the marvel of this moment was only partly about the new president, Obama, it was also about the desire of so many people to witness the fulfilment of the promise of the civil rights movement, two million people coming together to share their faith in ideals higher and broader than self-interested money-grabbing, suspicion of difference, or fearfulness of threats. Obama expressed it, but Lowery was the one who put it into practice. Amen!

Alex Goodall
Papamoka’s European Contributor
From A Swift Blow to the Head


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Blogger Papamoka said...

As I watched the ceremony prior to the swearing in, it appeared to me that President Bush was almost intimidated by Obama. I just sensed an overall nervousness in his movements and actions. That and he was blinking non stop.

Getting past all that, I honestly believe that America now has the chance to prove itself once more to not just the world but to our own people. Americans should never be afraid of their own government but that is the perspective that Bush pushed down our throats. It seemed to me that his thinking was that if there are terrorist in America then all Americans are terrorist suspects.

Free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!!!

8:30 PM  

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