The Speech

Leaders lead from the podium. Those who say otherwise do not understand how leadership works. Regardless of your political stripes, few dispute that somewhere along the path of the last eight years George W. Bush stopped leading the country, primarily because he failed at the podium of public opinion. More difficult to believe, but no less true is the fact that great oratorical leaders can promote horrific policies yet still sway millions. That is the power of the podium.

Today’s (fabulous) speech by President Obama was remarkable in the electrifying demonstration of an articulate man who can lead. At its core that, and his obvious intelligence, will be his greatest strength, regardless of the policies his government will develop in the coming months.

The New York Times said today…

“He remains hard to read or label — centrist in his appointments and bipartisan in his style, yet also pushing the broadest expansion of government in generations. He has reached across old boundaries to build the foundation of an administration that will be charged with hauling the country out of crisis…He will eventually have to choose between competing advice and priorities, risking the disappointment or anger of constituencies that for the moment can still see in him what they hope to see.”

In other words he is still something of a national Rorschach inkblot test, we see in him everything we hope for.

Many will read much into his speech today, picking and choosing their favorite parts.

Here were mine…

Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet…

The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness…

We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do…

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor 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…

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our 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. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more…

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you…

…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….

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. 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.

 

Progress, enlightenment, vision, leadership. Cool.

 


More on The Change

The End of Cynicism


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3 Comments

  1. Posted January 20, 09 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Hi! Congratulations for Barak Obama and People of United States. See you around my friend.

  2. Posted January 21, 09 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Bush’s failure to articulate his leadership values left a vacuum that the media and the Democratic Party exploited.

    I liked this from Obama’s speech: “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

    This is a very clear-eyed assessment of the power politics at play, and an open challenge to the conventional wisdom of the Democrats. Change in the Arab world have to come from the Arabs, nobody else.

  3. Doug
    Posted January 21, 09 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Excellent points Bill.

    I was surprised at how clear the message of progressivism ran through the speech. I’ve read reports from the UK that commented on the dogged American belief, embodied in the speech, that if we just try harder the future will be better. None of this wishie washy post modernism stuff.

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