Honestly, my dominant emotion on anticipating this inauguration is melancholy.
It is part of the American national character to imagine a new day, to believe as Ronald Reagan was so fond of saying that "we have it in our power to begin the world over again." Americans are perhaps alone among the world's peoples in believing this, and it may be more true here than it is anywhere else. But it is not entirely true even here,
I rate the symbolic value of Barack Obama's inauguration lower than most; to my mind symbolism without substance is for suckers, and we haven't seen substance from Obama yet. I reserve the right to revise my opinion later, and dearly hope I will be able to, but I cannot forget the staggering failures, the personal unworthiness and systemic decay that have made Obama's accession to the Presidency possible. The first half of the 20th century was a period of great hardship and devastating wars; that the period that succeeded it was marked by a general increase in prosperity and the spread of freedom throughout the world even in the shadow of the greatest threat mankind had ever known was largely due to American power and American leadership.
These trusts were inherited by the last administration and recklessly squandered. America's good name was sullied, her power diminished, and a lot of people got killed. However, it is not just the outgoing President and his administration that have let the country down. Congress, the very heart of the American system of government, has made itself less relevant to national policy, while decadence and corruption have pervaded a culture of a people more capable of seeing the potential of man than any other, but also one prone to conceit and empty self-congratulation.
These are heavy burdens to be inherited by the new President, and not burdens he ought to be expected to bear alone. His challenge, and ours, is a challenge we have made for ourselves, the greatest we have imposed on our own country since the war that almost destroyed it so long ago. I contemplate with melancholy the necessity of meeting that challenge, and the sorely limited resources I have at my disposal to ensure it is met successfully.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Food for thought
In the vein of passing along other people's work or observations, here is a reading list for Barack Obama from the Washington Monthly (it's a great list; in my wildest dreams, I would maybe have time to complete it), and a reader message to TPM on the inauguration, reproduced here in full: