Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Brilliant Speech

...though, at this point, who would have expected anything else?

The theme of service and sacrifice, of common purpose, that I expected. What I didn't expect was that the speech would be a not-so-hidden challenge to the doctrine of small government and small ideas; that he'd come out so thoroughly against consumerism, selfishness, and nativism.

It also looks like the "meeting with leaders" line wasn't actually a mistake, or at least that he's embraced it. That line about "we will reach to you with open hands, if you first unclench your fist" was just about the most poetic summation of the doctrine of liberal engagement I've yet heard. And to say he'll "defeat" those who use terrorism, instead of "destroy" or "kill" or "eliminate" was a very striking choice. It suggests that the intention is to make them irrelevant, not simply blow the up and let their neighbors sing their martyr's praises.

The other bit that grabbed and excited me: in the midst of talking about roads and bridges and electrical grids, he included "data lines." It looks like he sees this here 'net as part of America's infrastructure after all. Perhaps we'll see a more mature attitude towards the Internet from this White House; what I hope is that they start asking the hard questions about the Last Mile that far, far too many have been avoiding.

And, yes, it was somber. It wasn't a smiling declaration of strength; it was a invocation to service in the context of 0ur challenging times. That was inevitable, but I can understand why there wasn't much cheering. If he succeeds, he may be one of the greatest Presidents the Union has ever had; but if he fails, that same Union could be irrevocably damaged.

What concerns me is that fate may not be in his own hands, but in the hands of those opponents in whom he has placed (in many eyes) too much trust. They're the ones who put America in this place, more than anything else. They're the ones who could still exploit enduring advantages to frustrate attempts to change a system that benefits them so handsomely. Obama will quickly learn, to his sorrow, that not everybody is willing to work to America's benefit at the expense of their own. As digby said, the true test is what happens after he learns that lesson.

So far, though, he's been a quick learner. He may not get all of it yet, but the man went from obscure State Senator to President in a shockingly short time. With any luck, he'll just as speedily learn about the job he was just given, and how to deal with those in his own city who would "defeat" him.

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