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The First 100 Minutes

Jan 21, 2009
We gawked, open mouthed, at the largest gathering of Americans we had ever seen—or ever will see.

We were privileged to view The Parade of Extremely Important People, their demeanors ranging from high dudgeon to hilarity.

We gasped at Dick Cheney morphing into Dr. Strangelove.

We cooed (again) over Malia and Sasha, envying their father his cuddling rights more than his new office.

We listened to Aretha Franklin arethafranklin “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”

We doubted our own ears as we heard the Chief Justice flub the oath, not once, but twice.

And then we listened. We listened to 2,395 words from a Black man who had just assumed the mantle of executive authority over the most powerful nation in the history of the world—a nation of enormous promise which had broken that promise over and over again.

In his first sentence, he acknowledged our ancestors, which included a people who had suffered the worst excesses of cruelty that can be visited upon one group of human beings by another.

In his fifth paragraph, he echoed the Constitution and paid homage to the greatness of our nation’s founders, from whom we have strayed so far, and so vilely, over the past eight years.

In a scant 96 words (“That we are in the midst of a crisis...”), he summed up the causes and effects of the profound mess we are in, identifying the culprits as well as those who must now be the first beneficiaries of relief—the people.

He delivered the required slap to the cynical, partisan, logjammed politics of the last thirty years (“[T]he time has come to set aside childish things....”), and invited us to “choose our better history” which carries the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

And setting aside the protection of “narrow interests” he laid out the new directions we will take—creating jobs, building infrastructure, welcoming back science, revolutionizing health care, harnessing renewable energy.

Let us just hope the “stale political arguments ... no longer apply” and let us not underestimate or again forget the enormous destructive power that stands behind those arguments.

Open government to the light of day, cease to tolerate waste, rein in the excesses of unregulated capitalism, assure equity of opportunity for all because—common sense comes back to Washington!— “it is the surest route to our common good.”

Jettisoning the notion of American hegemony, he brought us back within the community of nations and assured the world that we would no longer, “for expedience’s sake,” sacrifice our ideals, which “still light the world.”

And in just 40 words, he ended our century-old support for the world’s worst villains, “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent.”1

Words. 2,395 words. Spoken yesterday with intelligence, calm grace, and determination. Already today, actions begin their task of speaking louder than words. If those actions, with the enthusiastic participation and support of all right-minded Americans, are pursued with similar intelligence, calm grace, and determination, then morning in American may finally have come, and we will have awakened to find our long-cherished Dream a reality.
1 Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, from the New York Times, January 20, 2009 (Accessed January 20, 2009)
tags: Obama

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