Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Thoughts

For a few hours yesterday there was a collective belief that things will be better, a new era has started and the world will be set to rights. Two million crammed into Washington's Mall, and many millions more watched around the world, as an almost physical weight of expectation hung in the air over the shoulders of this man who seems to have become the mega-celebrity of his day.

As President Obama launched into his inauguration speech, the CCF parade here at SGS came to an end and the sixth formers started flowing into a classroom to watch it live. I can't think of many other politicians whose speech would be a must watch event for such a wide range of people. Usually it's only the minority of us who are political anoraks who watch these things all the way through, but yesterday it was different. As, perhaps, the Obama presidency will be different. He wanted a 'people's inauguration', and speaks to ordinary people in a way that few other politicians seem to be able to. Ignore for a moment the high chance that he will fall below the almost superhuman expectations everyone has of him, and reflect on the simple reach of his charisma and political personality. If nothing else, Americans, and other citizens of the world, at least believe they have a leader who they can respect and that must be healthy for the political process.

Of course, the critics and the sceptics are starting to emerge. Several 'commentators' in the newspapers and on the blogs have said how the speech failed to deliver, how it was uninspiring, and where was the key line that we can all remember. Yet it is only disappointing in the sense that Obama has already set the bar so high. Having been used to a president who can barely articulate the English language, we have become used already to the fact that Barack Obama is a master of the language, that he can employ it to reach great heights and impassion millions of people. He is both a writer and a speaker. His books read elegantly and easily. His speeches are masterful. And his inauguration speech was finely tailored to the occasion. He did reach some fine cadences, but he also sought to encompass the dark realism of the country he is about to govern, and the world he is about to engage in. Apart from the stumbling round the Oath of Office - more the fault of a nervous seeming Chief Justice than anything - Obama remained fully in control, and his speech gave voice to great aspirations as well as reflecting genuine difficulties. 'No Drama' Obama wore the expectations of millions as lightly as the coat he shed at the podium. This is a man emboldened rather than cowed by his many challenges. The phrase 'cometh the hour, cometh the man' never seemed to have more resonance than yesterday, in the cold, electric atmosphere of a January inauguration.

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