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Pretty Words

The greatest excitement in the news today seems to be the inauguration of Barack Obama. I guess that’s not surprising because the most powerful position in the world has changed hands and many people have been waiting for the day that George Bush is finally gone from a position he should never have had in the first place!

A political commentator has described Obama’s speech as one of the greatest ever which will go down in history. Well maybe and maybe not. He certainly has a lot more charisma than most other leaders, but I thought I would have a look at some of the key parts of the speech and see if they were really that great.

He starts off with “I stand here today humbled by the task before us”. Its traditional for leaders to express humility and it has become a bit of a cliche so its hard to take that too seriously. Before I go on I think I should say that I am broadly an Obama supporter and I have high hopes for him so don’t take any negatively you may detect here too seriously!

Then there is “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood”. Well yes, he has certainly been thrown in at the deep end, mainly due to the ineptitude of previous administrations, and that’s not just George Bush either. He said “Our economy is badly
weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility…” So it seems to me that he accepts that strong action needs to be taken against the powerful forces who caused this mess. I wonder if that will happen or whether political reality will take over and divert the required action down other paths.

And about the markets “Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control”. Exactly what I have been saying for years (except for the part about expanding freedom – I’m not so sure about that). The market is not the answer to everything. It is a system which can achieve a lot of good but it also needs tight controls, despite the contrary views of the free market ideologues and libertarians.

Inclusivity is good: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers.” Well, non believers were sort of mentioned as an afterthought there, or were they singled out because they are really the most important group? Anyway, its good to see Muslims being mentioned in a positive context for a change. It is too easy to see them as the enemy in a good versus bad scenario. Islam isn’t a problem itself, but extreme fundamentalist Islam is, just like extreme fundamentalist Christians and Jews are also a problem.

In the final section there’s an awful lot of references to God, which I don’t like much. I know that those old traditional phrases like “God calls on us” and “God’s grace upon us” and “God bless America” are part of the rhetoric in every political speech in America, but just think of how great it would have been if this one didn’t have them! On the other hand, the speech did seem to have a lot more pragmatism than ideology, so it definitely scores from that perspective.

I think that if I had listened to the speech instead of reading it (no doubt it was designed to inspire an audience listening to it and that analysing the text doesn’t exactly show it at its best) I might have been a lot more inspired. But when I hear a great speech I just think “well, that was a great speech” I never extend that to thinking something like “that’s a great plan, I’m glad something good is going to happen”.

I hope Obama’s ideas do result in actions and I think a lot of them will, but we have no right (based on past experience) to expect that will happen, because talk is talk – even when it involves such pretty words – but action is another thing completely!

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