Is Change Gonna Come?
Has there ever been an inauguration like it? Stupid question - answer no! Forgetting all the shattering of the "color-bar" stuff (as if you could) and the palpable sense of hope and expectation invested in him and the event itself, the sheer multi-platform coverage of the whole thing was mind-blowing... My poor little RSS feed couldn't keep up with everyone blogging about it (some more constructively than others)... Even the West Wing (the real one, not the comforting televisual one) has entered the blogosphere immendiately after the inauguration.
Also my email inbox was suddenly filled with emails from American friends who seemingly felt that they could emerge out of hiding and re-engage with the world now that their nation had regained a sense of pride in itself and vision for where it should be going. "I found myself singing the words of the National Anthem no longer embarrassed to be known as an American" wrote one... While more than one echoed MLK Jnr in saying “Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank God Almighty, We’re Free At Last!”
Of course not all have been rejoicing... Some because of unreconstructed prejudice... Others because they are not convinced by his more left leaning politics (this of course is "left-leaning" in relative terms - American left, which is still to the right of just about everyone else bar dear old Maggie Thatcher... and to the left of his predecessor The Shrub, who, whether by personal conviction or because of the Cheney-gang that stood behind him, was just about as right as you could go in US domestic policy and in international policy too, with the notable, but not well-enough noted, exception of the development work his administration supported in Africa)... or perhaps, many are fearful that for all his fine wordsmanship, it may just be words and no real substance... just think of our own dear departed Tony Blair...
And it was for that last reason, I was glad that, while it was a great speech it was not the exercise in rhetorical gymnastics that some had predicted. (The full text is posted here, among countless other places, but I note this one because the writer of this blog has left us in no doubt as to how he feels about the changeover) He dodged the lazy evocation of Lincoln/FDR/Kennedy/King and avoided glib or empty rhetoric, but sought to address the real concerns of Americans and others listening around the world. But it was good to hear him affirm hope over fear… and note that he would not be sacrificing freedom for the sake of security… I would have preferred to hear him talking of America working in partnership with other nations rather than assuming a right to lead... Leaders, be they in world affairs, sports teams, or in any other form of human endeavour, are not simply the biggest, strongest or loudest... If others are to follow without coercion the role of leader is a position that must be earned... You would think that Obama himself would have realised that after what he has come through to arrive on the steps of the Capital Building. So if America is to lead the human race in the years to come, there is a bit of catching up to do still... But it is good to have them back in the running...
It wasn't just the speech that elicited comment (though I haven't heard anyone say yet that the poem was pants! It was as bad as something I would write!) The fluffing of the oath by both the President and Chief Justice John Roberts has elicited much comment, especially given that Senator Obama apparently voted against Judge Roberts' appointment. A commentator on BBC (whose commentary it must be said was almost as bad as the poem - facts wrong, intrusive, inane at times... I thought I was watching UTV)... but anyway, they noted the resonance in having Aretha Franklin, the descendent of African-American slaves, standing on the steps of the Capital built by such slaves, and singing “My Country 'Tis of Thee” with its exclamation "let freedom ring!" before the installation of an African American president... That truly was a symbol of the hope expressed by MLK Junior when he quoted the negro spiritual cited by my friends in their emails "Free at last!" He spoke those words in front of the Lincoln Memorial nearly 46 years ago... In other words it has almost taken the lifetime of Barrack Obama for that message to travel the length of the Mall. How long will it take to cross America with all its political and social divides, or encircle our hurting and hating world.
Mind you, let's also remember that “My Country 'Tis of Thee”, written to the tune of the British national anthem "God Save the King", was probably written as an exercise in calculated insult to America’s old colonial master, the King of England, lauding the freedom that the nation had so recently won from Britain, and affirming that God alone was King in the US… Given that Obama today quoted Thomas Paine’s “American Crisis” (Paine having been tried for treason in the English courts over his rebellious pamphleteering) where he described the Delaware expedition by George Washington, in speaking of " the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...” It reminds us again of America’s special relationship with Britain… ie we are America’s oldest enemy!!!!
So if such old enemies can become firm allies (though I hope that the UK will never again be the lap-dogs to the US that we were under the leadership of Bush and Blair) then perhaps Obama will be able to unite erstwhile enemies, both his own enemies at home and the many enemies of the USA overseas...
All the best big lad!
Let freedom ring!
Let freedom ring!