Today, the United States of America showed the worldâ€”and, more importantly, itselfâ€”a glimpse of its promise. History, hope and a sense of unity filled the land. It was difficult, even on the other side of this vast country, not to feel caught up in â€œThe Momentâ€.
Itâ€™s forty years since Richard Nixon and the Republicans began their campaign to divide and conquer this country, feeding off and fueling feelings of envy (the â€œsilent majorityâ€), suspicion and ignorance (the â€œsouthern strategyâ€). The divisions are a long way from healing. Not surprisinglyâ€”maybe because they know nothing else nowâ€”the G.O.P. remain wedded to the negative.
But one thing that Iâ€™ve observed talking to many Americans over the past few months is that there is a desire to come together as a nation. Perhaps that doesnâ€™t extend too far into the more backward, rural areas, but it is palpable in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
There is a great deal of hardship and adversity here right now, much more so than most kiwis could comprehend, inured as we are to a benign, helping society. A friend who worked on the L.A. Times as a journalist has had to take on a second job to meet a â€œbudget gapâ€ that arose through illness. Sheâ€™s seventy. The daily roll call of jobs lost is frightening.
Obamaâ€™s speech today was a masterful mix of hard-edged realism and inspiring rhetoric. (Text here) It wasnâ€™t his most eloquent in my view, but it was effective.
Obama began by dwelling at length with the crisis with which the USA finds itself confronted, going further by alluding to â€œsapping of confidence across our landâ€ and the need to â€œrestore the vital trust between a people and their government.â€
Opponents of his efforts to save the country from economic catastrophe were put on notice in no uncertain termsâ€¦
â€œWe 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. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish thingsâ€¦ â€¦What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath themâ€”that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.â€
The simple reliance on the market to set things right was rejectedâ€¦
â€œNor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.â€
On international affairs, there is promise of a new, smarter approach, informed by an understanding that bullying is not the only, or even always the best, way to achieve the USâ€™s goals. Thereâ€™s an understanding of the interconnectedness of the various elements of the intractable â€œproblemâ€ that the Middle East presents, that you cannot have peace without a measure of prosperity for all.
The statement that, in the international arena the USA is â€œready to lead once moreâ€ was not the only repudiation of Bush 43â€™s policies. Obama presaged a return to action consistent with US Constitution (and, one hopes, international conventions):
â€œOur Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.â€
Gone was the over-blown rhetoric about bringing US-style democracy to the rest of the world that saturated Bush 43â€™s speech four years ago.
Obama certainly has his work cut out for him. But with so much goodwill, so much talent, and such determination, he is the one who can meet the challenge. One thing is very clear. The United States has turned a corner. And for that we should be grateful.
Update: over at the Standard, Eddie posts on what Obama means for kiwis.