Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Inaguration

Neither M nor I are crowd people, and even if we were, navigating DC yesterday with Ruth would have been a difficult, if not impossible, project. So, instead, we went to the Waverly library to watch Obama's inauguration on the big screen there (and also, we thought it would be neat for her - and us - to see it with some other people, rather than holed up in our basement). We caught the tail end of story time (she's a bit young, but she loves hanging out with slightly older kids), and then watched the swearing-in and speech before bringing her over to daycare for the afternoon (sorry, no pics this time).

I thought Obama's speech was quite good. He didn't say everything that, in my magical world, he would have, but I thought it was about as good as could be reasonably expected from someone who was actually able to win the presidency. Some highlights, from my perspective...

- From the angle they were showing Joe Biden, it looked like he could have smacked John Boehner in the face with his elbow. "Accidentally," of course.

- Obama gave a shout-out to nonbelievers.

- Putting science back in policy (ask M about the last 8 years at the FDA).

- Health care!

- I was surprised that he indicted laissez-faire ideology so bluntly. Pragmatism about the benefits of the government and the benefits of the market in different policy spheres is precisely what we need. Now let's see whether he can deliver.

- "We will stretch out our hand if you will open your fist." A cheesy line, but exactly the right sentiment.

- Finally, someone who invokes "responsibility" properly! For years, we've got only the "look out for your own damn self" side of the coin. Obama quite eloquently drove home the positive side, where it's about giving back to your community, and not just because it's an unfortunate duty, but because it's a way to fulfillment in one's own life. For too long, political rhetoric in the US has been dominated by a sharp distinction between self-interest and other-interest. And, combined with his pragmatism about government (above), I have some hope that he can avoid the danger on the other side of conflating other-interest with the government (rather than seeing the government as a tool for promoting communal interests, one among many).

- And no torture, with no beating around the bush. Alas, also no "recriminations." I think we could use some of those.

That's at least what stands out for me. The only groaner, for me, was the bit about how we will definitely outlast our terrorist enemies. I wanted to be the guy with a pocket protector who would pop up in the back and say, "Actually, historical data shows quite the opposite, sir!" But hey, let's see what happens there, too.

Given my work, I've been following elections and transition processes, etc. in places like Ghana (where it went fine - a peaceful transfer of power to an opposition party, despite some tense moments), Kenya (not so much... but looking better), South Africa (we'll see), and Zimbabwe (yeah... no). And, for all of our faults, listening to NPR now and hearing them interview folks in areas where people voted overwhelmingly for McCain, reminds me that we take for granted the seriously important thing that peaceful transfers of power are the norm in the US. I know there are some relatively unhappy reasons for that - e.g., that we've got pretty entrenched elites and a relatively apathetic population. And sometimes it can lead to things that are arguably unfortunate (I know folks who wish there was more outcry over Bush's "win" in 2000). But would you really have preferred a civil war to Bush? That would have been a likely outcome in a lot of places. And to see a government that was much more committed to executive power than is the norm in the US, much more secretive, and with broad support in the military hand over power to a new government whose support was - remember - really only a little higher than its own (Obama got about 52%)... we should be careful to recognize the importance, and global rarity of that phenomenon.

Anyway, trite as it may seem, I'm feeling a little bit more hopeful about the future of the country Ruth's likely to grow up in than I was a year ago.

1 comment:

Ed Levine said...

Good analysis. Maybe main stream media not looking for this but I think it opens some interesting doors. Hope is a great thing. I think it is what we need at times like this. Because of the circumstances, and the fear of recession and terrorism it was possible for Obama to get elected. People were out of their comfort zone and looking for a new answer. I hope we can have enough patience to let him try a few new things to build a better future before people get too comfortable again and just want instant gratification without concern for thew future or others sharing the planet. For now, I love the feeling of Hope and Americans working together for the common good!