I was in Tokyo on the day that Obama won the election, watching the results come in with people of many nations. Today I have been in Utrecht as the coverage of the Inaugural Address and parade came through on the BBC and CNN. Later, I read the speech. And I found it deeply moving, even if if not yet quite up to the punishing standard – how could it be – of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.
It was moving to see mention of whips and hard ploughing, but also – as someone who saw Khe Sahn as a symbol of all that ailed America in the late 1960s and early 1970s – the mention of those who died there.
Al Gore’s prescient warnings on energy and climate security have clearly been taken on board – and what a delight to see Obama hug not only Gore but also McCain. This is truly a paradigm shift, in multiple dimensions, in the true sense that I think Thomas Kuhn intended.
A section of the speech that will live on in my memory, partly because of the echoes, but partly because it seeks to redefine the spirit of citizenship, which in some corporate hands has become a fairly dilute wine, was this:
“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — 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.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.”
And I can’t think of another Inaugural Address that ended on that phrase that has been so central to the pursuit of sustainability, “future generations”. Understanding and meeting their needs is likely to be a challenge every bit as demanding as that of tackling secession, the aftermath of slavery, Nazism or Communism – particularly at a time when the economic backdrop gets darker by the day. But President Barack Hussein Obama is, for the first time, a President I feel I share.