Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What the President Said

According to my Blogger dashboard, this is post number 888. What a nice, round number...rather like a line of snowmen, which is appropriate this morning, as it's colder than a divorce lawyer's heart. No snow, but there's still plenty of winter to come. Sigh.

But to the matter at hand...

Yesterday afternoon I wrote about President Obama's inauguration speech, and what a great speech I thought it was. Of course, there was a wide range of opinions on the topic, not all of which (for some odd reason) agreed with my cogent analysis. The President spoke for about 20 minutes, and the Parade o' Talking Heads spent the rest of the day telling us what they want us to think he said, because we are obviously unable to understand on our own. They almost unanimously said it was a somber speech, as if that was a bad thing.

OCgirl posted a great comment: "...i was listening to the news commentators' reactions and they were saying it was great, but not that great. did we not listen to the same speech? and then i realized, it wasn't a sound-bitey speech, which is probably what they were expecting."

It wasn't a sound-bitey speech. That sums it up in six words. The President wasn't speaking in bumper-stickers or three-second sound bites that fit neatly into a five-minute newscast. He was speaking in grand ideas and a vision of where we've been, where we are, and where we need to go. It was the right speech for the right time.

Did we not listen to the same speech? That's a good question. I had the day off yesterday, and so I was able to sit in my comfortable chair and listen to the speech, after which I was able to read the full text online. Agnes had to work, and when she came home she asked if I'd listened to the speech, and if it was true that Mr Obama had said the United States wasn't a Christian nation. I said that was not true, and asked where she'd heard that. She replied that it was what some people at work had said.

Did we not listen to the same speech? This is what Mr Obama actually said:

"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

America is not, in point of fact, a Christian nation. It is a nation whose leading religion is the various types of Christianity, but it was not created as a specifically Christian nation. The Constitution specifically states (in the first words of the First Amendment): "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The founders had seen the result in Old Europe of religion used as a bludgeon against free people, and weren't having it here. They believed in the freedom to worship according to the dictates of one's conscience, and whether that means one accepts Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam - we are free to believe. Mr Obama underscored this truth very well.

Did we not listen to the same speech? Well, no. Each of us heard what we wanted to hear. I wanted to hear an inspiring and healing speech, and I heard it. Others heard what they wanted to hear, coloring their interpretation through the prism of their political, social, and religious beliefs.

None of this changes the fact that President Obama gave a great speech. Not, perhaps, as great as some of those of Washington, or Lincoln, or even Winston Churchill. But it was the right speech, with the right words and tone, for the occasion.

Today, Mr Obama gets down to the work of translating the speech into action. Like all men and women of goodwill, I wish him well. I hope he is able to live up to the challenge.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

7 comments:

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I only heard parts of the speech as I had to work, and it could have been construed as somber, but I don't see it that way...it was really a call to action a speech about Its time to get to work people!

John said...

One commentator noted that President Obama's speech only used the word "I" three times--fewer than any other President except T. Roosevelt. President T. Roosevelt didn't use it at all.

word verification: zirish

Malaise Inc said...

Some people just aren't happy unless they are angry about something and will manufacture offense out of anything in order to satisfy that need.

Although, I must admit surprise that there wasn't a greater outcry because "This Land is Your Land" was played at the inaugural concert. After all, it was written by Woody Guthrie who is {insert scary music} a known Communist.

bandit said...

I listened to the speech and we are a patchwork of people from every corner of the earth. I was suprised not to hear any comments about the performance of John William's arrangement of "Simple Gifts." This beautiful melody is an early colonial Shaker hymn/melody. The Shakers were an offshoot sect of Quakers.

With that in mind, it was performed by a jewish violinist, an oriental cellist, a black clarinetist, and a white female pianist.

I didn't hear any of the talking heads speaking of this. I thought it was signifigant.

anOCgirl said...

i'm so honored to have my comment analyzed in a blog post! thanks, bilbo!

my two cents: apparently, we all heard a different speech. the commentators thought it had a somber tone; i thought it was hopeful. your wife's co-workers thought there was an anti-christian message; i heard a message of inclusion and tolerance (and it sounds like you interpreted something similar). i heard some pointed jabs at the outgoing administration; others may have interpreted it as a clear distinction between the two and an expectation to move forward.

regardless it was a great speech. now we need some actions to go with those words.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

We do indeed speeches in the way that suit ourselves.

Mike said...

Malaise has a very good point in her first paragraph. And I don't think that fact will ever change .... ever.