Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Address Redux

Obama's inauguration speech was mostly terrific, as expected. Best were the parts spoken to foreign countries. What a delight to hear such a powerful distinction drawn between terrorists ("you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you") and Muslims ("we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect"). It's painful to acknowledge that this distinction was seldom explicitly drawn by the previous administration, nor was it ever perceived by the Muslim world. But, patently obvious though it is, it was earth-shakingly significant to have this stated so resoundingly while the whole world was watching. Also, the choice of the word "respect" demonstrated keen cultural understanding. Many Muslims feel, above all, disrespected by the West (and not without ample reason)...and respect is paramount in Arabic cultures.

But a lot of the speech ("winter of our hardship", etc) had a "darkest days" quality. And while everyone's aware that these are tough times, it's doubtful the average American at this point deems this anything more than a dip in a cycle - though Obama's economic advisors view the situation with vastly greater alarm. So I'm worried that the "buck up, we will survive this" message might actually elicit more fear (ala "My God, I had no idea things were actually
that bad!"). This may validate Obama's oft-stated concern regarding the potential for isolated presidents (or presidents-elect) to drift out of touch with popular sentiment.

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