January 20, 2009
Unlike John, I thought Obama's speech was thematically coherent, its basic message being: "Our ideals helped us do great things in the past. We took an unfortunate detour these last eight years. But now we're back." There's very little in the speech that doesn't relate to this theme in one way or another.
Change Has Come
In case you haven't checked out whitehouse.gov in the last hour or so, do it now. It's new and much improved. Bush is gone, baby, gone. --Seyward Darby
Four years ago, I wrote an article for TNR's 90th anniversary issue making the case that domestic liberalism is fundamentally about empiricism. Another way of putting it is that there's really one one true ideological tendency in American politics, and that's conservatism. Conservatism has a strong a priori belief about the proper size of government--a belief that big government is wrong even if it accomplishes its stated goals. Liberalism has no a priori belief about the size of government.
What does the transition say about how Obama will govern? How Obama might redefine the U.S. presidency. NYT editorial calls on Obama to show support for the bankruptcy amendment in the recovery package. Eugene Robinson says Obama's time in office will change the way we think about race. Which Republicans are most likely to support Obama in D.C.? Just how quickly will the White House switch from saying farewell to Bush to saying hello to Obama?
As the day unfolds, I'm wondering if we'll hear more tongue-clucking about the gross indulgence of the whole inaugural display. With the country in a deep, increasingly painful, ever-scarier recession, there has understandably been some debate about whether the Obama people should have canceled--or at least dramatically scaled back--the usual inagurual pomp and circumstance.
January 19, 2009
The War At Home
As Israeli soldiers battle Hamas in Gaza, Israeli politicians are fighting over control of the operation, pursuing their own political interests as much as military strategy. The day-to-day decisions regarding the operation are being made by three government ministers: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Come on up for the Rising
Martin Luther King would have been overjoyed to witness Barack Obama’s inauguration, and yet he still wouldn’t have proclaimed our arrival in the Promised Land. King knew, as W.E.B. DuBois observed 60 years ago, that “of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for 5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental. … We should fight to the last ditch to keep open the right to learn.” Today this most fundamental civil right, the opportunity for an equal education, remains a distant mirage--and nowhere more so than in the nation’s capital.
Forget the Past
Since John Kennedy shared the inaugural stage with Robert Frost and fretted in advance that he would be outshone by the 86-year-old poet--only to uncork a classic of the genre--America has witnessed a series of cream-puff inaugural addresses oozing with patriotic banalities. There is nothing to be gleaned from the collective inaugural words of presidents 36 through 43, except for lessons in how not to do the deed.
Dreams of My Predecessor
WASHINGTON -- For many of us, the end of George W. Bush's presidency could not come quickly enough. But as power changes hands peacefully, the result of a decisive democratic verdict, the most important question is: What can our new president learn from the one heading back to Texas? The Bush administration's specific failures -- in foreign and domestic policy and on matters related to civil liberties -- are clear enough.
Required Reading, Again
The concert began with the Star Spangled Banner, not sung by the audience but played by Yo-Yo Ma and ten musicians of his Silk Road Ensemble. It is a more stirring piece and at the same time also more restrained when rendered by instruments that include the beguiling shakuhatchi, pi pa and bag-pipes than when we most often hear it with some tenor fulfilling his duty just before the first pitch at a baseball game. I saw some people cry at the sheer dignity of the piece and at the confidence that it conveyed in our dark times.