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For those of us who had expected an inaugural address that would ring like Kennedy's, Obama's words on Tuesday were surprising. Stern, even ominous, they evoked not triumph but warning.

But we have learned we can't predict this president. He's usually ahead of us, and his words are always worth reading twice. Since Tuesday I've re-read his speech several times, finding more in it each time, and so has Frank Rich.

Rich is one of the most insightful commentators on the Times masthead. After Safire's senile dismissal of Obama's inaugural, Rich's close reading places the speech squarely in the context of the times, where Obama found himself called upon to give it:

Obama couldn’t give us F.D.R.’s first inaugural address because we are not yet where America was in 1933 — in its fourth year of downturn after the crash of ’29, with an unemployment rate of 25 percent. But no one knows for sure that we cannot end up there

As always, Obama is thinking forward and giving the speech that will make sense to history, not the one that will raise cheers today and be ridiculed tomorrow ("Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.")

The speech is freighted with responsibilities and stern calls to service and sacrifice. Not since Carter has a president struck such a puritanical note. We couldn't quite take it from Carter -- as president he often seemed preachy and holier-than-thou (and we didn't know then that as an ex-president he'd earn his sainthood). Which makes it all the more remarkable that we can take it from this younger man. What is it about him that makes it okay for him to talk down to us, while simultaneously lifting us up? Somehow he's heir to some of that real preacher mojo, the kind Martin Luther King brazed into our public consciousness for all time.

No one truly listening to the Inaugural Address could doubt that this former community organizer intends to demand plenty from us as we face down what he calls "raging storms."

There will be more Obama speeches, that yield phrases to chisel on granite slabs, like Kennedy's and King's and Lincoln's. But they will be delivered when something has happened, or when something needs to happen. On Tuesday this president had done nothing yet, except prepare. If we learned nothing else from his inaugural, it's that he is prepared. And, he said clearly, we must get ourselves ready, too.

Originally posted to samizdat on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 10:46 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It's called Under Promise, Over Deliver (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    txdemfem, HoosierDeb, zenmasterjack

    I hope it works out that way.  It won't if we don't get all hands on board, including the Military Industrial Complex, and end fossil fuel use.

    Go Green, before we Go Extinct.

    This IS the day.  Seize it.

    Poverty does not mean powerless. Unite!

    by War on Error on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 10:49:00 AM PST

  •  I think that this speech is going to be more (10+ / 0-)

    appreciated in hindsight than it is right now.  He was saying things that maybe we were to jubiliant at his winning to understand.  But the reality is we are closer to his speech in reality than we are to his more hopeful tones.

  •  asdf (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    For those of us who had expected an inaugural address that would ring like Kennedy's, Obama's words on Tuesday were surprising. Stern, even ominous, they evoked not triumph but warning.

    Nothing so Wagnerian from me I'm afraid. All I got was a very pragmatic assessment and a different philosophical approach than that of the last 8 years.

    Stern and ominous - not so much.

    •  To me it was (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Killer of Sacred Cows

      "here's your bitter medicine - now take it"

    •  Well, it had it moments of being (10+ / 0-)

      stern and ominous.

      In both the second paragraph and the penultimate paragraph he referred to our current problems as "storms."

      He said, "...we are in the midst of crisis."

      He said we have experienced a "sapping of confidence across our land—a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable."

      Of course, he follows this assessment with confidence that we can meet the challenges.

      To me the central message of his speech is found here:

      What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility—a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

      This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

      I think his real quest is to teach us civics. To make us into citizens. I think this was the lesson of his campaign and I think he believes this is the key to success in his presidency.

      "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics." --FDR, 2nd Inaugural Address

      by Dragon5616 on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 11:11:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Rich also alludes to article by Bob Woodward (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    frankzappatista, Dragon5616

    that is real interesting.Washington Post

    "Those that know, don't say, those that say, don't know"... Tao te ching... Then why am I posting a comment?

    by zenmasterjack on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 10:58:14 AM PST

  •  Please, please (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    doc superdog, zenmasterjack

    don't say things like

    phrases to chisel on granite slabs, like Kennedy's and King's and Lincoln's

    These are words that make a generation cringe with the pain of those days, and the fear that . . .

  •  It's a shame we didn't get it (5+ / 0-)

    We couldn't quite take it from Carter -- as president he often seemed preachy and holier-than-thou (and we didn't know then that as an ex-president he'd earn his sainthood)

    I think the price we paid was all that followed him.

    I also don't think he was anywhere near as bad as the myths the MSM has built up over the years - he was the first victim of the same mealy-mouthed media-driven undermining strategy the Corporatists applied to Liberals, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, etc.

  •  Frank Rich gets it, he always has, and he always (5+ / 0-)

    will. From his initial impression of Cheny as Mr. Potter, all through his column. Only in a country where a person can become a celebrity and is worshiped by many, because her family is wealthy could these types of abuses take place. Those who were the stewarts of our economy looked the other way when these abuses took place, not only the agencies we had in place to oversee shit like this could not happen, but even our elected officials assured the nation all was fine. Fine for them, I am sure, but what about the rest of us? While our jobs were being shipped overseas for the sake of profits for American coporations who took those profits and put them into offshore investments so they would not have to pay American income tax, our government looked the other way. When products coming in from China, for the sake of coprorate profit were killing our pets, and poisening our children, our government looked the other way. When the first warnings came in about this sub-prime mortgage problem, our government officials looked the other way. When the shit started to hit the fan, and our economy started to crumble before our eyes, our elected officials didn't stand up and take the blame, all they did was point their fingers at the other guy. We do have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again, it didn't have to be this way, but it is, and now we are older, and wiser, and more powerful, we managed to put Barack Obama in the Presidency, and we have collectivly said ENOUGH.  If I were among those who were really at fault, I would be afraid, very, very afraid. This may prove to be the next great American Revolution.

    •  but it wasn't only the government (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      who looked away.  We did too, adn we have to take responsibility for that.  We allowed our government to look away from all those things, because we were, in the words of my mother, Fat, Dumb and Happy.

      Mr. Bush, we'll be forever in your debt.

      by k8dd8d on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 11:27:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not all of us, some of us were on top (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        fumie, Nina

        of this and our voices were ignored. I really resent that response, the same way, I resent, "you get the President you deserve". Did we deserve G.W. Bush and 8 years of him to boot. Some of us worked very hard to see he didn't win in 2000, and to retire him in 2004. The same people who were raising their voices about all these abuses, our voices were ignored.
        Not all of us bought big screen t.v's, Mercedes, took lavish vacations, and spent like drunken sailors. Some of us are in this mess finacially because emergencies came up, health care cost mounted. I think there are those who took equity out of their home simply for survival, and never expected this explosion would hit, or they would be out of work. I really take issue with lumping all of the people in financial trouble into the same catagory. I also think none of us took lobbyist money to look the other way, or received large bonuses for screwing others. Yes some are guilty, but others are not, they are just a victim of the circumstancs and their plight was ignored, the same way their voice was ingnored. I am afraid, the government needs to shoulder the largest blame here. They make the rules.

        •  I agree that the government needs to shoulder (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kafkananda, brunoboy

          the largest burden.  And yes, I realize that there are those who didn't make the bad choices.  My family is one of those too, but while many of us worked against Bush, worked to change the policies, it was not enough to change the tide.  My husband and I have looked around at our neighbors for years, and tried to understand why they could afford to have the things we couldn't, despite our knowing that they were in the same income bracket as we are.  Now we understand.  While we were saving for retirement, they were partying and buying beyond their means.  And what really burns me, is that those of us who have made the right choices will wind up paying the bill for those who didn't.

          So while I think the government is largely to blame, and corporate greed is the more potent driving factor, WE as a population, allowed that to happen.  Yes, some fought against it, but obviously, the majority re-elected Bush, so they didn't have a problem with the way things were.

          I had a huge argument with my brother, a staunch conservative, a while back.  He simply could not understand why I thought a Walmart opening in his small town was a bad thing.  He thought I was a nut for saying I won't set foot inside a Walmart until they allow their workers to unionize and provide health care to them.

          He maintained that in his small town, it was important for poor people to be able to buy stuff cheap.  That everyone being able to raise their standard of living, even on false premises, was the most important thing.

          We are all to blame, and I accept that responsibility, and I think Obama did a great job in pointing that out, and Rich highlighted that in his column today.

          Mr. Bush, we'll be forever in your debt.

          by k8dd8d on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 11:55:36 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I hear what you are saying, and I agree (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            it is maddening for those of us who did all the right things, saving like hell for a down payment on a home, putting down that down payment, working  hard to be able to afford the mortgage payments, even when because of the corporate greed of Enron, our electric bills went through the roof. Did I mention, I am gald Ken Lay is dead, I hope he is enjoying his time in hell. Watching those people get away with screwing many of us, with no accountability. Raising our voices then did no good, just as it continues to do no good. The corupt bankers will get the second half of this 350 billion dollars, while more and more families are put out of their homes. These people are not the ones who lived high on the hog, or didn't put money down, these are the people that have or are losing thier jobs because of this financial disaster. It makes me sick to my stomach. When I hear these asshole politicians on the Sunday talk shows talking about how important it is to shore up our financial institutions, and when I hear the hosts asking about delaying the tax hikes for the rich because of the economy, I ask myself, what world do these people live in, don't they see what is happening to many, many middle class Americans. Those who are benefiting from these tax cuts, the rich, are cutting jobs and putting more and more people out of work. More and more middle class families are losing their health insurance, and no one cares, no one in power seems to care, all the talk is about helping the banks, the ones who got us into this mess in the first place.
            I know this sounds like a rant, but each day that goes by, the more and more that happens and the more and more bullshit I hear the more and more angry I am becoming.
            You know I don't give a damn if Caroline Kennedy got the job as Senator from New York, what I am worried about is where those checkers at the Supermarket will get a job next week when their lay-off paperwork is completed. There are no jobs for these people, and these people have house payments to meet and a family to support. The government is not there for them to provide them with a bailout.
            I live in California, and there have been rumors that with the high rate of unemployment, funds might run out soon. I don't even want to get started on how the elected officials in my state mismanaged our money.
            If you ask me the wrong people are losing their jobs these days.

            •  it doesn't sound like rant (0+ / 0-)

              you are making valid points and this is a good discussion.  

              and while I agree with this:

              These people are not the ones who lived high on the hog, or didn't put money down, these are the people that have or are losing thier jobs because of this financial disaster. It makes me sick to my stomach.

              There are plenty who did make bad choices.  

              My overall point is that Obama pointed that all out in his speech, and I agreed.

              Mr. Bush, we'll be forever in your debt.

              by k8dd8d on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 07:30:45 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I love that we have a President that (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                "gets it". Time will tell if he continues to "get it". I think he will. I hate that he is not even President for one week and the media and pundits are all over him. Give him a freaking chance! I so don't want to be disappointed. I don't expect miracles from him, but I do expect him to be an advocate for us, God knows we need one, and one in the highest office in the land.

          •  I hate what Wal-mart does too, but (0+ / 0-)

            I am forced to go to Wal-mart so I can get cheap perscription drugs. I get 3 months supply of one medication for $10.00, medication that normally costs me $15.00 a month. My other blood pressure medication cost me $60.00 for three months, where I used to pay $40.00+ per month. I have no health insurance, I need the medication, because of this economy, my husband's salary is less than a third of what it was. It is noble to stand firm against Wal-mart, but sometimes it is simply a matter of survival. Who brought us to this point? Certianly not my neighbor. I would bet it is the greedy pharmacuetical companies, and the people in Congress that took their lobbyists money.

            •  yes, I have the luxury of shunning Walmart (0+ / 0-)

              and we have very good insurance.  My husband works for a big corporation, and our health insurance is good and hasn't really been compromised.  I certainly see that it is a necessity for some things, and for some people.

              In my brother's case, he was making the argument about what good jobs it would bring to his community and what a good tax base it would be for his small town.

              To that, I say, Bullshit!  The cost is too high.  Cheap goods, yes, but they have driven the wage/benefit structure into the toilet.  It's like the company store.  Low income people have to work there to get small wages so they can buy cheap stuff.  What happened to corporations being responsible for their employees and paying a living wage.

              I'll tell you what happened.  Greed.  By corporate bigwigs AND regular Americans who have been thrilled to see their 401ks going up.  The regular Americans have been USED by the corporations as a front, but we let it happen too.

              Mr. Bush, we'll be forever in your debt.

              by k8dd8d on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 07:28:28 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Also about Wal-Mart, (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                our local Wal-Mart is becoming a Super Wal-Mart, one of thos Wal-Marts that have a super market located inside. I think that is the reason that the local Supermarket, a coporate entity too, is laying off so many people, that I mentioned in another post. I don't think they are losing money yet, their prices have increased, and they have started to not stock as much of a variety of groceries as they did before, have stopped doubling coupons, and don't offer as many sales items as before. However, I think they are anticipating losing business to the Super Wal-Mart. I hate that I have to go there to get my much needed perscriptions, I would rather boycott them. I don't shop there if I can help it. I have a real problem with everything they sell being made in China. However, it is really difficult to find affordable products made in the U.S.A. Hell we even own a Prius, because it is a good car and saves us plenty on gas. I wish it didn't have to be this way, but it is.
                I also have a super conservative brother, why he is still a conservative I don't know, he almost died two years ago, because he had no health insurance and could not get medical treatment. He was admitted to a great hospital finally when he was hours from death, (he was very proud) through the E.R. and got excellent treatment, they saved his life, you would think he would think differently about health care after that. Now he is over 65 and on Medicare, is collecting Social Security, and is thankful for his monthly check, but yet he still complains about FDR and his liberal policies. Go figure.

                •  lol, if he (0+ / 0-)

                  he still complains about FDR and his liberal policies

                  Maybe we should cut him some slack.

                  The funny thing about my brother is that I know deep down he's a bleeding heart, he just cannot bring himself to admit it.  He started a business 25 years ago in his late 20's and wound up losing everything...because he tried too hard, too soon, to provide all of his employees full benefits.  He had to work long and hard to climb back up again, and so I understand why he is bitter and making the choices he is making.

                  Unfortunately, his 22 year old son is also a staunch conservative, and that makes me very sad.  He's bigoted, ignorant, and his ideas are set in concrete.  I hate to see that in a young person.

                  See, the cheap stuff made in Walmart is the kind of thing I see Obama talking about when he says "we failed to make hard choices".  How many people, even at the lowest income, buy stuff that they don't need, because it's cheap?  I stopped shopping at Costco for the same reason.  I could save money on SOME items in bulk, but everything wasn't cheap, it was just marketed that way, so people have come to believe everything there is cheap.  Same as Target.  Some stuff cheap, but what else do you buy when you go in there?  Plus, on the Costco thing, I just don't want my kids to even know that junk food comes in such huge packaging.  We only need a little bit of that stuff.

                  It is difficult to find good products made here because we stopped making things here.  We drive Toyotas as well..after driving a Ford and having it fall apart too soon, we went with reliability.  We still have to make the best choices with our money.  My argument is with the trash..the "wants", the "doodads", the toys, that are bought on credit without consideration for what is within ones means and without considering whether it's something that is necessary and useful.  I joke with my kids about "things made in China by children your own age" as being something we don't need.  Or that it takes too much petroleum to make and ship those things here.  That doesn't mean we don't buy any, but that we try to make the best decisions, and model that for our kids.  

                  Mr. Bush, we'll be forever in your debt.

                  by k8dd8d on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 10:05:51 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  You sound like my daughter (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    just tonight she was here for dinner, it was a late birthday celebration for my conservative brother. This is my youngest daughter who is into eating all organic, no processed food, and she is the ultimate environmentalist. She is raising her children, my grandchildren as good citizens of the earth, she not only talks the talk, but walks the walk as well. My brother happened to mention he is trying to lose weight, so he buys these little one portion cups of Baskin Robbins ice cream. I also mentioned I buy the same one portion sizes of Ben and Jerry's cherry garcia, since my husband doesn't like that flavor, and if I buy a pint, I will eat the whole thing, (not so good in the self-control department), we both got a lecture about the packaging and how much damage we were doing to the enviroment by buying those small containers. I don't think I can eat another Cherry Garcia ice cream and not feel guilt for doing so. Both she and her husband asked we not buy the children any plastic products for Christmas this year, not such an easy task, especially when plastic is on their wish lists.

                    •  well, she sounds much further (0+ / 0-)

                      along the path than we are.  I like to look at it as sort of a path and some people are further along the path to making those changes in their lives than others, but yeah, we are trying!

                      My kids are 12, 10 and 8, and at least they aren't being raised with white bread and processed cheese food in the way that I was.  Since they were little, we have stressed the idea of the choices that we make with our money, both in an economic way (getting the best deal and spending our money wisely) and in the moral way (like not shopping at Walmart).  And we also stress the repairning things, not just throwing them away when they are broken and buying a new one.  Sometimes that's unavoidable, but many times not. It's interesting now that they are making their own choices to see how they manage that.

                      My 12you collected enough gift money at Christmas to buy an IPOD.  He agonized over it, read everything, went to the Apple store without his money so he could shop without being pressured into buying right then.  It was so fun to see him thinking!  When he finally got it, you would think it's made of gold, he's taking such good care of it!  

                      But unfortunately, we do have a damn lot of plastic toys.  I long for the day when there are no Legos in my house for me to step on in the dark or find in the bottom of the dryer.

                      Mr. Bush, we'll be forever in your debt.

                      by k8dd8d on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 07:05:23 AM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Lite bright pegs, (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:

                        I had my share of stepping on light bright pegs in the dark, they were everywhere, and seemed to mulitply like rabbits. However, with 4 grandchildren, I know of what you speak about legos. We have legos at our house, the kids love to build with them, after they go home, I am finding them in all the furniture for days.
                        Two years ago for my youngests grandson's birthday, I honored my daughters wishes of no plastic, and bought this very expensive wooden airport set at a store that specialized in wooden toys. I think he played with it for a week or two and returned to the plastic toys he had. That wooden airport makes a fine decorative touch to his bedroom.

                        •  The road to hell is (0+ / 0-)

                          paved with good intentions!

                          We decided to have battery free toys when ours were little...lasted until the oldest was 4 and thought he would die if he didn't have the Buzz Lightyear that talked and shot lasers.  

                          It's a slippery slope to that IPOD from there....

                          Mr. Bush, we'll be forever in your debt.

                          by k8dd8d on Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 10:04:30 AM PST

                          [ Parent ]

  •  I had just finished reading Rich's column when (6+ / 0-)

    I saw your diary.

    The part I thought insightful was his whole commentary on Obama's words having been meant to remind everyone that the whole country got on the greed train.

    Feckless as it was for Bush to ask Americans to go shopping after 9/11, we all too enthusiastically followed his lead, whether we were wealthy, working-class or in between. We spent a decade feasting on easy money, don’t-pay-as-you-go consumerism and a metastasizing celebrity culture. We did so while a supposedly cost-free, off-the-books war, usually out of sight and out of mind, helped break the bank along with our nation’s spirit and reputation.

    We can’t keep blaming 43 for everything, especially now that we don’t have him to kick around anymore. On Tuesday the new president pointedly widened his indictment beyond the sins of his predecessor. He spoke of those at the economic pinnacle who embraced greed and irresponsibility as well as the rest of us who collaborated in our "collective failure to make hard choices." He branded as sub-American those who "prefer leisure over work or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame." And he wasn’t just asking Paris Hilton "to set aside childish things." As Linda Hirshman astutely pointed out on The New Republic’s Web site, even Obama’s opening salutation — "My fellow citizens," not "fellow Americans" — invoked the civic responsibilities we’ve misplaced en masse.

    This hit home for me.  

    The whole change in the tax code that led to 401Ks, and "regular" people having control over the investment of their retirements, coupled with the real estate, "flip that house" boom, led middle class people even further into a Horatio Alger fantasy that had everyone thinking they could be the next millionaire.  Consequently, lots of bad choices were made...lives lived on home equity, huge, gas sucking SUVs, etc.  

    Maybe we didn't make the hard choices, or ask enough questions of our legislators, because we all wanted to ride that train to the Big House.  And I think Obama pointed out that moment of reckoning.

    When Microsoft announced layoffs of 5000 people here in Washington this week, their CEO commented that the economy is "resetting" to a lower level of consumer demand and spending.  

    I teach my children about the difference between wants and needs.  We work hard so we can have all of what we need, and some of what we want.  We also have to help other people have all of what they need.  That is our responsibility to a civil and just society.

    Obama's speech reminded me of those responsibilities.

    Mr. Bush, we'll be forever in your debt.

    by k8dd8d on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 11:23:36 AM PST

  •  Diarist, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, doinaheckuvanutjob

    please post a tip jar!

    Mr. Bush, we'll be forever in your debt.

    by k8dd8d on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 11:25:28 AM PST

  •  A Rose (0+ / 0-)

    someone wrote, with love and admiration, that the speech was a rose with the thorns still intact.

  •  I was moved by that speech, I thought it was (0+ / 0-)

    brilliant. It summed up the times and the tasks at hand, spoke to the nation and world, assured our allies that a new day had arrived where relations would be restored, our traditions of rule of law restored, and warned our enemies to cooperate and negotiate and not think they have the opportunity to cause mischief. It also deliberately called out Bushism and Reaganism but subtly enough not to offend anyone and laid them to rest on the ashes of history and spoke of the need for new better ways.

    Fantastic, all in one speech beautifully delivered.

    Gave me great hopes for the next 4 years.

    Children in the U.S... detained [against] intl. & domestic standards." --Amnesty Internati

    by doinaheckuvanutjob on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 02:48:34 PM PST

  •  I caught this column and thought (0+ / 0-)

    it superb. Rich gets it.

    Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world. Not McCain

    by kafkananda on Sun Jan 25, 2009 at 03:00:05 PM PST

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