Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Not a Bad Start

Obama delivers on day one, but the hard work remains ahead of him

Of all the speeches a politician ever has to give, the one given on the day one becomes leader of their country is the one to get right.

Barack Obama certainly did that today.

Before an estimated crowd of four million people, Barack Obama took the oath of the office of President of the United States and gave a rousing, ambigious inaugural address -- one that was truly worthy of the historic occasion.

"The challenges we face are real," Obama announced. "They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America -- they will be met."

It's no surprise that Obama understands the work that needs to be done. Now, all that's left is for him to actually do it.

Obama certainly feels confident that the United States has the tools at its disposal to navigate the difficult waters ahead. "We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth," he said. "Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

Yet as Obama gets set to remake the United States, a question remains about what he would have the United States make itself into.

According to New School for Social Research Philosophy professor Simon Critchley, many Americans may have cause to wonder about this. Because Obama has created such a populist narrative around his candidacy and around his Presidency many Americans may have superimposed values onto Obama that he doesn't necessarily represent.

Certainly, this is the warning that Naomi Klein issued to progressives about Obama before he was even elected. Certainly, he may be more progressive than his predecessor, but he may not be nearly progressive enough for many of those who have entrusted him with their agenda.

Whether or not Obama is truly the progressive messiah that many have imagined will remain to be seen.

Obama also continued his clear attempt to build a pervasive political mythology around himself, taking the oath of office on the same bible Abraham Lincoln used in 1861. Certainly, it's fitting that the first black President take the oath of office using the same bible as the man who ultimately ended the atrocity of slavery, but the calculated symbolism is simply too much to overlook.

Considering Lincoln's central position in the American civil religion, there is little question that Obama and his team intended to use a Lincoln totem in order to solidify his place within that civil religion.

At the very least, the Democrats have finally decisively finished the act of snatching the legacy of Abraham Lincoln away from the Republican party forever. It probably helped them that this legacy is one they surrendered long ago.

Barack Obama is off to a fine start as President. But this is only day one.

Only the future can tell how well Obama will truly stand up to the office of President of the United States of America.

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