Lorne Gunter, National Post
Editorial Page, Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Well, at least Barack Obama doesn't have that goofy, Gomer Pyle grin on his face the way George W. Bush did every time he made an important speech.
Mr. Bush often had serious things to say and sometimes said them very well. His Sept. 20, 2001, address to Congress -- "you are with us or you are with the terrorists" -- is a case in point. (Umm, I beg to differ... I believe that was a bit extreme myself. I don't believe that it was so black or white. Jeanne) Still, Mr. Bush frequently had a tough time getting listeners to believe he was taking important subjects seriously because of his infuriating cat-that-swallowed-the-canary smirk.
By contrast, Mr. Obama can deliver a stem-winder with all the gravitas and pace it deserves ... perfectly punctuated ... by poignant ... pauses. So powerful are his oratorical skills, it's easy to imagine him prompting swells of patriotic pride in a fast food worker while simply ordering fries.
But did President Obama truly say anything in his inaugural address?
Barack Obama may yet prove to be the Democrats' Ronald Reagan, their Great Communicator. But for that to happen, there must be substance behind his words. He must have something to communicate. There must be solutions shrouded in the rhetoric.
"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics." Did he mean the petty squabbles started by Democrats or just those that originate with Republicans? Did he mean the past eight years or the past 16?
Most liberals here and in the United States are so obsessed with the splinters in their opponents' eyes they never see the planks in their own. For Republicans, for instance, Bill Clinton was every bit as divisive a figure as George W. Bush.
But liberals never saw that. Certainly there were petty grievances and recriminations under Mr. Clinton as much as under Mr. Bush, at least within the United States. Does President Obama, then, mean his party must cease it partisan sniping and finger-pointing, or only the Republicans? How much of a unifier he will be depends on the answer.
Following a bright, airy opus (perfect for the crisp, clear day and evocative of the first great American composer, Aaron Copland), Mr. Obama equated the nuclear threat from Iran and elsewhere with "the spectre of a warming planet."
Really? That sounds a lot like something Al Gore might have said and he is hardly a unifying leader.
The financial crisis was largely the fault of "greed and irresponsibility on the part of some," but everyone failed "to make hard choices," even consumers. That places no blame on Bush-era policies or actors directly. But what about the more cryptic, "As for our common defence, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals?" Was that standard American exceptionalism, or a dig at Gitmo, waterboarding and the electronic surveillance of Mr. Bush's war on terror?
"For those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say ... you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." Strong stuff that even hawkish Americans would support.
Mr. Obama was Kennedy-esque when he offered, "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." Know that you will be judged "on what you can build, not what you destroy."
But just what did he mean when he said, "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent ... we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist"? Unclench the fist waved at the West or unclench the fist grasped tight around your own people's throats?
Will Mr. Obama deal with dictators only if they cease to be tyrants, or even if they remain tyrants, but so long as they stop beaking at the U. S.?
As forcefully and eloquently as he speaks, it is often difficult to understand what Mr. Obama proposes from his words. He says things in such a way that each hearer may take from his addresses what the hearer wants.
So we will need to see what legislation and executive action Mr. Obama proposes. Only then will we be able to decide whether he is a true uniter or just a clever sophist.
I didn't even bother to watch the inauguration or listen to the speech or even read it in the news afterwards... and yeah... what IS Obama all about? Frankly, he scares me more than Bush. Bush was obvious. Bush had good points and bad points, and his bad points were obvious, but I could handle that. I still wish he hadn't gone to war on Iraq, I think that getting rid of Saddam Hussein could have been done perhaps in a different way than Americans bombing in and taking control. They could have found a way to support the Iraquis people and let them take the lead instead of having to be in charge, and no, of course oil had nothing to do with it... but whatever. Saddam Hussein is gone. And I prefer the evil I know and can do something about to the evil I don't know... What IS Obama going to do? I think a few people are in for a surprise. In an ideal world, it would be me, in for a surprise, and Obama turns out to be the great president all these people think he is going to be, but I'm pretty sceptical about that... I fear for the lives of millions of innocent babies and other weaker/defenseless members of society... and I fear for the family as we know it today.