Ah, Obama: reaching for the ideal, but urging us to “act in our time,” “knowing that our work will be imperfect.” And a gay inaugural poet to boot.
Our 44th President (I accept that Australia is the closet 51st state of the USA) may be the second black president, but he has now become our first gay president.
A very smart friend of mine brushed off the spectacle of Obama’s 2nd inaugural address, only wisely suggesting we wait to see if it is only rhetoric. Other friends (yes, friends) have called BS and pish-posh on Obama, that liberal homosexual-brown-nosing anti-second-amendment pinko. You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please some people anytime.
Here is himself smirking before the speech. How could he help it? He really really wanted to GRIN — I made it guys! I made it, woo-hoo — but had to supress it into a mere smirk.
The first half is dedicated to his main theme, a big one, of economic equality; this will gladden the economist Paul Krugman who called for Obama to produce a new New Deal. Past the halfway mark, he delivers a clunking paragraph about climate change, but still, he does make it plain:
The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.
Our journey is not complete
Three paragraphs about interanational relations (war): “…enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.” … And then:
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
Stunning! That alliterative poetry-chant of ‘Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall”: the human rights touchstones of women, blacks and gays. And not just a mention; which he then proceeds to expand (my itals):
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote…
Astonishing. As the NYT recorded, this was the first time a President had ever used the G-word in an inaugural speech; and, advocatorially. Also adding weight to the sentiment is that Richard Blanco read a “modest” poem, One Today, the first Latino-gay poet to present at an inauguration (listen to how he pronounces “Colorado” as a Latino word).
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem
for all of us today.
And the last bit in that Obama paragraph is about the attempted vote-suppression by southern GOP-run states, with some voting lines running to 8 hours wait. Imagine that here, in our 51st state! We’d be throwing raw chops and prawns at our local members.
In any case, we certainly know our journey is not complete in Australia, under the leadership of Julia G and Tony A.
To act in our time … knowing our work will be imperfect
Then these beautifully modulated propositions, a pragmatist’s ideals (my italics):
Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.
For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
That great last sentence, taking us forward into a hope of continuing future goodwill and persistent acts for the common good.
Do words matter? (Words that make ideas manifest? Do poems matter?) Shall we rhetorically diminish their worth by naming speeches as mere rhetoric, fancy dress talk? If it is only words, and what they represent and do, that separate us from the animal kingdom, then this is a speech that powerfully strengthens our claim to be moral creatures. Onya Prez.