Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama has read his Reinhold Niebuhr

Marc Ambinder has some nice rhetorical and literary annotations of Obama's speech. Part I, Part II.

I am very privileged--I'm young, straight, white, upper middle class to upper class, not disabled in any way, etc. So I can't speak the way many can of having been left out or ignored of public discourse, inaugural addresses, etc. But when I got to this:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Has a president ever acknowledged non-believers before?

I teared up just a little bit. It's not that I wasn't all right before; I sort of just accepted that nobody was too concerned with atheists, and I thought that was fine--it wasn't as though (in my experience) atheists were suffering discrimination or oppression. But reading that made me feel, "Hey--he took the time to go back and mention me, in the part of the speech that is usually by definition not about me." And that was far more moving than I would ever have expected it to be.

I can only imagine what this day must be like for some others.

ETA: The listing of America's essential values is mostly full of things I've heard before that have little resonance because they're so overused: "hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism."

But "tolerance and curiosity," now. These have been missing from this list for a long time, it seems to me.


  1. What rocked my world is when Chief Justice Roberts said, "Do you, Barack Hussein Obama, solemnly swear...".

    After all the shit I've been hearing these past years, to hear the president being sworn in with a Muslim name is sweet, sweet joy.

    Also, congrats on this blog :) Very good stuff.

  2. I know, that made me SO HAPPY too! I think that's the thing that my mind keeps going back to and quivering over more than anything else.

    Thanks! Way to be the first commenter who's not my mom. My friend texted me the other day about a post and I was like, Dude. Comment. Help me out here.