I nipped off from work a bit early yesterday and got home just before five, in time to see the swearings-in of Joe Biden and Barack Obama. The BBC commentators made a point of remarking during Joe Biden’s oath that it meant he could become president should anything happen to Obama during his term, and it felt a little bit like they were reminding us how close Sarah Palin would have been to the presidency if things had gone differently.
Then there was some music from Yo Yo Ma and some other famous musicians, which I would have liked to listen to but which I couldn’t hear particularly well because the commentators chose to prattle on over the top of it.
And then the time came for President Obama to be sworn in. And he fumbled his words, bless! He lept in too early and spoke over the swearing-in man (some sort of Justice I think), and then got stuck on the second line because he lost his rhythm. It was terribly sweet. His inaugural address went much better though with ne’ery a fumbled line in sight.
What struck me most was the marked change in language to the previous presidency, with lots of words and references that I don’t think President Bush would ever have spoken in a speech. He talked about restoring science to its rightful place, and about combating climate change by harnessing solar and wind power. He said they would no longer accept that they had to choose between their safety and their ideals (bet that didn’t go down very well with Bush and Cheney). And he described America as a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. Just that little reference to the non-religious section of society had a lot of impact for me and was very encouraging. It’s true that you still have to be God-fearing to be elected president, but it’s nice to know that anyone who isn’t God-fearing might get a fair hearing. I also particularly liked the line “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect”. I can’t remember President Bush ever sounding so willing to engage.
He worked hard too to remind peopel not to raise their expectations too high – there are still lots of problems facing the nation and the world, and they aren’t just going to get better overnight. I think that was good because he could have just ridden the euphoria and said lots of crowd-pleasing things. But instead he also said it’s going to be hard, we’ll have to work hard and make hard decisions, and it’ll take time.
Of course, it’s just a speech, so you can’t place too much emphasis on it. You have to judge him by his actions and not just his words. But I enjoyed watching it, and I felt like the speech could easily have been directed at and relevant to the world as a whole, and not just the US. I think President Obama has generated an enormous amount of goodwill and hopeful thinking from a lot of people, and I hope that he can take advantage of that (and that it’ll last long enough) for him to make a real difference.