This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

In the shadow of Abraham Lincoln

What can we expect from Obama's inauguration?

Right at this moment, Barack Hussein Obama is making his way to Washington by train - in a clear echo of the journey Abraham Lincoln once took.

In two days' time, he will be sworn in as President of the United States. He is using his full name.
His inaugural address, written by Jon Favreau, his speech-writer, promises to be one of the best yet.

Expectations are high. Can he beat Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" 1961 inaugural speech or indeed any of Lincoln's speeches? The chances are that he will.

Obama is a great orator so I expect to hear the lofty rhetoric, the references to President Lincoln and Dr King, the appeal to America's "better angels" and the post-partisanship which characterised the election campaign.

But I also think there will be specifics in the speech, which will signal a break with the failures of the Bush years.

I expect him to announce the closure of Guantanamo Bay. I expect him to publicly announce an end to torture, rendition and illegal detention (even if he doesn't use those exact words). He is smart enough to know that America needs to restore its moral standing in the world and both announcements will send out a clear message.

He will pick certain issues like climate change to show how an Obama Administration will be different.

I think he will also make a direct appeal to the Muslim world and call for a new relationship between the 'West' and the 'rest'.

In some respects, on the domestic front, the speech is going to be harder to give. He has to convey the severity of the economic situation to the American people without descending into pessimism or negativity. This requires a fine juggling act.

He must appeal for bipartisanship and co-operation (so he can get his stimulus passed) but he must also find a way of telling people that the spending commitments he made in the campaign can no longer be realised. It will be difficult stuff.

But inaugurations are not for nitty-gritty policies either. They are there to set the tone and direction and create an impression of what an Administration would be like. Obama will stick to a message of change and hope.

As Obama lays his hand on Lincoln's bible and gets sworn in with Michelle and the girls surrounding him, it will be a powerful weapon in the war of ideas that divides America from its enemies. It will herald a fresh start and a new future. It really is that seismic.

Just after President Lincoln was assassinated, his successor, Andrew Johnson was quoted as saying: "This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am President, it shall be a government for white men".

With Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, perhaps we can finally lay to rest views like that. The triumph of Barack Obama to the Presidency is also a triumph for the African-American people who have endured enormous pain and suffering over hundreds of years. This will be their day, as much as anybody else's.

President Lincoln said that America the nation was "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" and that government was "of the people, by the people and for the people". I don't think it would be stretching it too far to say that come Tuesday, we may be a little closer to fulfilling his dream.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

beautiful scene setter