Last Tuesday Obama shuffled with a grim face in the tunnel before his inauguration, or should I say coronation. He looked nervous as hell, and I almost expected him to throw a shadow punch or head thin air in order to psyche himself up for the moment. But, once he started his speech he was word perfect as usual, with his outstanding pauses that add weight to every phrase.
Jonathan Raban’s fascinating article in the Guardian gave some insights and reflection on the mechanics of the speech. Raban believes that the speech included an unprecedented repudiation of the previous regime and all it stood for. It was a sober but brilliant speech that probably deliberately avoided the one-liners we’ve come to expect.*
The first week has carried on (unbelievably) where the speech ended. I would like to highlight two issues in particular:
The Guantanomo pledge was brave and ambitious and the fact that it was delivered after a couple of days is symbolic of Obama’s determination. I remember hearing Denis MacShane in a Fabian conference on Obama suggesting that he doubted an American President would dare do this with all its practical pit-falls, but Obama has. However, the luke-warm reaction from some countries is very disappointing. On Sunday I heard a radio interview with a leading Dutch minister in which he stated Guantanomo was America’s mess and America should sort it out. In one way he (the Dutch minister) is right, but surely at this time Europe should support Obama and encourage him in his tough internal battles, rather than under-mine him in any way. The Guantanomo problem may be made in America but it has world-wide implications, so it is in our interests that it should be solved. The response from Portugal and Switzerland is much more encouraging, and I hope Brown follows suit.
The second news story I would like to highlight is from The Guardian apparantly done very quietly by Obama, but is perhaps just as important as his public stance on Guantanomo. Not only is it important for the health of women and human rights, but it crucially shows that Obama has the guts to go against the Christian right. Hopefully, this is just the start of a rational regime which will lead to stem cell research and drop abstinence education and creationism. Doing this on the quiet may be a very clever tactical move.
Here’s hoping for more weeks like the first.
* I was particularly pleased when Obama mentioned 'non-believers' and felt this was significant. My reaction was confirmed by Raban when he stated Obama was the first American president to acknowledge us in his inauguration.