On Tuesday, Mr. Obama officially changed his title to “president.”
On that historic day, at that historic moment, I sat in a classroom. I had made arrangements to investigate, practice and improve my writing skills. I knew that there would be a time conflict, and I knew that the miracle of technology would record the entire event so I could it watch after my class. For me it will be “live,” recorded, but live.
As a communication instructor and consultant, a number of people have asked what I thought of the new president’s speech. Two hours after the fact, I relaxed in my television room and watched the show. As Mr. Obama took the oath of office at 12:05 he had been president for five minutes. Nothing changed. But his rhetoric was different and direct to the American people and the citizens of this planet.
In no uncertain term, the president told us that things are bad, but not terminal. He told us that it will be the American people who will strive to fix the economy, the environment and the security of those who seek peace.
Mr. Obama did not lead us into false hope and dreams that nothing is wrong but stated clearly and precisely what was broken and that we, all of us, were responsible for the repair to our national body.
This was not a speech of campaign. This was not a speech of glorious times ahead. This was not a speech of a “shining city on a hill.” Yet this was not a “doom and gloom” speech, having the people run for shelters to wait out the disaster. This was a father telling his children that there are problems and the entire family must come together to grab a hammer, a saw, nails and ladders and achieve a common goal of repairing our home.
A number of years ago, a scholar, whose name escapes me, mentioned that the two political parties represented the two parents of the family – the Republican with a paternal vision and the Democratic with a maternal vision. Like any family, both are right, one needs the other to teach strength and compassion, of creativity and of scholarship. Over the past eight-years, we have lost that sense of compassion.
We also lost our sense of intellect, of science and of education. Yes, some of the greatest men in America’s history, such as President Abraham Lincoln, were self educated. But Honest Abe was the last of that greatness in American politics. We can no longer hide behind the fear of the unknown. We can no longer hide behind the wall of myth. We can no longer hide in fear of our neighbors because they disagree with us.
Later that afternoon I listened to right-wing radical voices angered that the new president held out his hand in peace to those of different faiths, including the Muslim world. They are mongers of fear and will seek acceptance through fear. But the president’s language was clear. “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” It was not, “Hey Muslim extremists, attack us and we will stand down.”
Andrea Mitchell of National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” reported immediately after the inauguration on the attitudes of those who attended the celebration of a new president and new government. She told of one woman in the crowd who said something I found most interesting after the speeches and entertainment were concluded. The woman said she felt like she was no longer an African-American but an American. That is an important distinction.
I think the president’s oldest daughter said it best. When her father stepped from behind the lectern, Malia, age 10, said, “Good speech.”
Yes, Mr. Obama, it was a good speech.
Now, did we really listen?
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.