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ANALYSIS: President Obama’s Inaugural Address

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It is only natural that President Barack Obama would deliver an inaugural address so similar to that of the man he is often compared to – the late President John F. Kennedy. (Two of Kennedy’s former speechwriters helped Obama craft his address).

Firstly, and most importantly, the world in 2008, as it did in 1961, finds itself torn in a struggle between two dominant ideologies that threatens to tear apart the very fibers that bind humanity together. In 1961, the great battle being waged was the one between two economic systems – Capitalism and Communism. In 2008, the battle at hand is a struggle between two sets of values – Western vs. Islam.

In his inaugural, Kennedy reached out to the other side, offering “To those nations who would make themselves our adversary…not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.” Obama does roughly the same, with some pre-condition: “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

Obama addresses the poor people of the world, as Kennedy did, saying that Americans “can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders…the world has changed, and we must change with it.” Perhaps the Obama Administration’s seeming embrace of diplomacy and foreign aid will help fulfill Kennedy’s promise: “to those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required.”

Both Presidents acknowledged the major part America would play in future generations. While Obama offers nothing in his speech as quotable and powerful as Kennedy’s classic line – “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country’ – Obama nonetheless makes it clear that a new sense of unity will be needed to tackle the world’s problems. “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility,” said Obama, “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.”

Truthfully, Obama offers no phrase as succinct yet beautifully poetic as Kennedy’s “Trumpet Summon” phrase – a phrase that captures both the austere quality of the challenges facing humanity and the defiant hope of Kennedy and the American people. Yet, Obama offers something as powerful, if not as poetic, when he celebrates the diversity of America:

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 non-believers. 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.

Even this, Obama’s salute to the diversity and promise of America – the qualities that made his presidency possible – recalls Kennedy, who broke a boundary himself as the first Catholic President.

Obama’s Inaugural Address might have lacked the poetic quotability of Kennedy’s, but it did not lack the substance. The ambitious vision of a better America and a peaceful world delivered by Obama is strikingly similar to the one Kennedy outlined in his own speech, 48 years prior.

We’ll have to wait and see if Obama can carry out his vision.

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Written by acs2008

January 26, 2009 at 2:02 pm

A New America

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A New America

Twenty-two months ago, on the very steps on which one great president and Illinois legislator announced his candidacy, another Illinois legislator – the audacious first-term United States senator from Chicago – turned some heads and drew some laughter by announcing his own bid for the presidency of the United States of America. On November 4, 2008, what started as a distant dream in Springfield, Illinois has become veritable fact. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill) will become the 44th president of the United States of America.

Obama’s victory, which was once unthinkable but seemingly inevitable as the campaign drew to a close, sent shockwaves throughout the world. People in places as far removed as Hong Kong, Sydney, and a little village in Kenya rejoiced when the news broke. World leaders as diverse as French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Iranian leader Mahmoud Amhadinejad sent words of congratulations.

The joy felt around the world was ten-fold in the United States. When the major news networks delivered the projection of Obama’s victory, men, women, and children across the land burst into exuberant celebration. Tears fell from even the eyes of grown men – the image of civil rights champion, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, with tears streaming down his face will endure as one of the most touching images of the 21st century.

Politics is by its very nature melodramatic – a political victory usually means much less than it made out to. The election of Barack Obama is an exception, like the election of Nelson Mandela as the president of South Africa (and the future election of a female American president). Any way you slice it, electing an African American to the most powerful office in a land where they were once legally enslaved is significant. The tears of the Rev. Jesse Jackson said it all.

But the great thing about Barack Obama is that he cannot simply be pegged as the black candidate. A greater percentage of white voters chose Obama than the white Democratic nominees in past years, such as Al Gore, John Kerry, and even Bill Clinton in 1992. Being black helped Obama win, but it was not the main reason, and it will not define his presidency.

Obama didn’t win because of the color of his skin, or because of where he is from; honestly, he didn’t entirely win because of the issues. His charisma and oratorical skills certainly helped, as did the false steps of the McCain campaign, including the unconscionable blunder of choosing Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee. These reasons, however, do not tell the whole story.

Obama won because Americans of all ideologies – liberal, moderate, conservative, apathetic – saw something in Obama they yearned to find within themselves again: hope. They saw in Obama the promise of a better tomorrow, a better America.

Perhaps such cliché sentiments should not decide the outcome of political contests. But they did. The conditions of the American political and economic atmosphere were ideal for someone like Obama – an unpopular president, a long overseas conflict, a sagging economy, historically low political efficacy.

Now, an inexperienced, untested chief executive inhabits the most powerful office in the land. Obama remains an enigma, despite almost two years in the political spotlight – no one really knows what to expect from the Obama presidency. America has chosen a leader it seems to know little about.

Despite this, it is clear that Barack Obama has the capacity to become a great president. Only a leader of great potential can enthrall a nation as he has. One of the most important qualities of a leader is their ability to inspire those they seek to lead. It is impossible to say that Obama has not inspired America. People from all walks of life – old, young, rich, poor – have fought for Obama in perhaps the most massive political campaign in the history of mankind, in terms of organization, manpower, and money. People believe in Obama more than any politician of our generation.

Obama has promised to lead America wisely. His promise to exercise tact before tactical missiles will be a welcome change from the imprudently aggressive foreign policy of past Republican and Democratic presidents. His promise to promote diplomacy will help restore America’s image in the world arena. His promise to help the poor and disenfranchised, as he did when he was a community organizer in the slums of Chicago, will restore the faith in government of the average American. If Obama keeps his promises to America, great things will happen.

However, promises are just promises. The truth is that the difficult situation at home and abroad, the unpopularity of the Bush administration, and the high rhetoric of the campaign has leveled unbelievable amounts of expectation on the shoulders of President-elect Barack Obama. Everyone expects everything of him – it will be difficult for him to live up to the expectations. Obama will sometimes say the wrong thing, make errors, or fail. Such is the life of any person, whether they are a president or a store clerk.

Expectations and conditions have crushed leaders of great hope in the past. The ouster of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and the democratic election of President Corazon Aquino was a time of great hope for the Filipino people. Filipinos around the world flocked home, hoping that their new leader would turn the Philippines into a first-class country. Despite her best efforts, Aquino failed. More than twenty years after her election, the Philippines is still impoverished and corrupt.

The true test for Obama will be whether he can overcome the adversity he will surely face and continue to lead efficiently and virtuously. Obama has the skills necessary to succeed – the charisma of Kennedy, the eloquence of Lincoln, a strong intellect and seemingly sound judgment. He also has a brilliant, experienced second-in-command in Vice President-elect Joe Biden who will be a great asset for him.

What is audacious about hope is the fact that hope is considered audacious at all. Hundreds of millions of hopeful Americans have elected a young President who represents the hope they wish to feel, the change they wish to make. The election of President Barack Obama is not an end, but simply a means. As Obama said in his acceptance speech, “this victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance to make that change.” The capacity for change, and greatness, is there, but the result remains unseen. President Obama has so much yet to prove.

The only certainty is that from this moment on, for better or for worse, this is a new America.

McCain Distorts Immigration in Mountain West

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As predicted earlier, the McCain campaign is targeting the key Mountain West states (Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico), which he hopes will put him over the top in the electoral vote count. The latest attempt is a new Spanish-language commercial airing in those three states that blames Obama for the failure of the McCain-Kennedy comprehensive immigration reform bill that sputtered in Congress this year.

This is false. Obama voted to pass this bill, despite its unpopularity.

Here is Barack Obama’s immigration plan, quoted directly from Obama’s campaign website:

Create Secure Borders

Obama wants to preserve the integrity of our borders. He supports additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border and at our ports of entry.

Improve Our Immigration System

Obama believes we must fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill.

Remove Incentives to Enter Illegally

Obama will remove incentives to enter the country illegally by cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants.

Bring People Out of the Shadows

Obama supports a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.

Work with Mexico

Obama believes we need to do more to promote economic development in Mexico to decrease illegal immigration.

These views are in line with the bill McCain accuses Obama of killing. This ad is a clear distortion of the facts aimed at securing a key demographic in key states.

Here is the ad in Spanish. The translation is offered below.

ANNCR: Obama and his Congressional allies say they are on the side of immigrants. But are they? ”

The press reports that their efforts were ‘poison pills’ that made immigration reform fail.

“The result:

“No guest worker program.

“No path to citizenship.

“No secure borders.

“No reform.

“Is that being on our side?

“Obama and his Congressional allies ready to block immigration reform, but not ready to lead.

“JOHN MCCAIN: I’m John McCain and I approve this message.”

270 To Win!

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Stop following the “horse race” polls. National poll numbers matter little in the United States because of the Electoral College system.

270 To Win is a great web resource for all those interested in seeing which states Obama and McCain need to win the magical 270 electoral votes needed to secure the presidency. For the record, the website gives Obama an 84% chance of winning the right combination of states to win. After several simulations, it seems that this race will come down to Ohio (surprise!) and Virginia. Winning one or both of those states will pretty much guarantee victory for either party.

Sidenote: For months, Obama held a slim single-digit lead over McCain in the polls. Now, polls indicate that McCain is ahead by 3 points – well within the margin of error for the polls, no doubt. To demonstrate how meaningless popular vote polls are, review this statistic: in the 1960 Presidential election, John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon in the popular vote by less than .2% (49.72% vs. 49.55%). However, Kennedy cruised to a comfortable 303-219 electoral vote victory.

So, even the slightest margin in popular vote could mean an electoral landslide.

Written by acs2008

September 8, 2008 at 6:14 am