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Inaugural Address acknowledges all beliefs … or maybe not

The following are a few quotes from Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address yesterday, and my reactions as I listened:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics. [You listening, Mr. Bush?]

. . .

We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. [Zing again, Mr. Bush.] Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. [A distracting line; it reminded me of song lyrisc from somewhere.]

. . .

We will restore science to its rightful place [hurray!!] …

. . .

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. 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.  [Yes, we can multitask.]

. . .

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. [Take that, Mr Bush.] Our founding fathers — our found fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all the 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 [as opposed to what we’ve been doing for eight years].

. . .

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.  [Another big slap at Bush’s way of doing things.]

. . .

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. [Wow! He actually acknowledged non-believers! Fantastic! That’s a first.]

. . .

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. [Great line!] To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.  [Love this phrase.]

. . .

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages [beautiful phrase].

. . .

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. [Well, so much for the non-believers.] It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.  [These things don’t require religious faith; they require only caring human beings.]

. . .

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.  [Do we have to keep dragging God into this?]

. . .

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive … that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

[A strong finish. If only he’d left out the references to God. A good speech, but not a great one. Some quotes from it may survive, but for me there were no tears or goosebumps or tight throat. Oh well, he’s not going to bat a thousand on speeches or anything else.]

It bothers me that, having specifically mentioned non-believers as a part of the diversity that is America’s strength, the president later reverted to religious references that excluded them. Not what I’d expect from a careful writer/orator.

2 Comments »

  1. Do you favor secularism and the removal of any talk of faith from governing? I must point out that the 1st amendment is a two sided coin. On one side, the President has the right to believe in God, talk about God publicly, and pray to God for help in making tough decisions. On the other side, the President shall not oppress or persecute others who may not feel the same way about religion or higher powers. I hope Obama will adhere to the 1st amendment, and in the future should we elect an atheist President, he/she will do the same.

    I think Obama is starting down the right track on many issues. Energy is a no brainer. Constitutional rights (closing Gitmo), and the economy (keeping the Bush tax cuts), for starters. The true test of his inauguration speech promises will not just be the establishment of a lasting democracy in Iraq, but to see that philosophy “spread out” to its neighbors.

    • I’m an absolute secularist. One’s religion or lack of it is irrelevant to one’s public service and should remain a private thing. Public service means serving all the public, regardless of religious belief. The president, like everyone else in America, has the right to believe in God or Allah or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but is also supposed to observe the separation of church and state and not do anything to advance one belief to the exclusion of others. It has always seemed to me that anyone who invokes God is excluding anyone who does not believe in God.

      As for democracy in the Middle East or anywhere else, it’s not our call. What works for the U.S. (a republic, actually) won’t necessarily work for another nation, and I don’t think we have the right to try to impose our form of government on anyone else. Democracy requires a certain unity and willingness of the citizenry to participate in and support that democracy; tribal nations, underdeveloped nations, and others may not have the wherewithal to sustain a democratic form of government.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not. ~ Dr. Seuss

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