Presidential inaugurals are one of last aspects of our national politics that are genuinely welcoming of the American people. So much of presidential campaigning is so tightly controlled and choreographed that it works to exclude Americans. But inaugurations welcome us all in, and allow our part in the greatness of American democracy to extend beyond the voting booth.
Callista and I were fortunate enough to be present on the National Mall on Tuesday for what was a truly historic event. For as far as we could see, down the great length of the Mall from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, there were people. Americans. Possibly the largest crowd in history for a presidential inaugural.
For a slideshow of Callista’s photos of the inauguration, click here
Regardless of who you supported in November, it was impossible not to be moved by this event, because it said extraordinary things about the United States of America.
Dictators Take Heed: In a Single Generation, the Son of an African Immigrant Rose in America to Be Leader of the Free World
The first thing the Obama inaugural said was how far American has come in a short time.
There are people alive today who were once not allowed to sit at a lunch counter, not allowed to stay at a hotel, and prevented from exercising their right to vote by virtue of the color of their skin. These Americans saw an African American man democratically assume the most powerful office in the world on Tuesday. What an extraordinary breakthrough.
And the second message about America sent by the Obama inauguration was aimed straight at the heart of all the dictators, theocrats, oligarchs and military strongmen who rationalize their tyranny with the excuse that their people aren’t “ready” for democracy: In the course of a single generation, the son of an immigrant from a poor country in Africa rose in America to be the leader of the free world.
Freedom is our Creator’s gift, not just to Americans, but to all people. President Obama stands as a powerful rebuke to those who deny this gift in the name of the best interests of their people.
“We Will Not Apologize for Our Way of Life, Nor Will We Waver In Its Defense”
There has been volumes already written analyzing President Obama’s inaugural speech, but my take is that it was more a conversation than a speech; more a search for workable solutions than a listing of ideological marching orders.
Here was a young man who rose to the presidency with stunning speed and is now encountering challenges he never dreamed of. In significant ways, his speech abandoned the liberalism of his campaign rhetoric in the face of a hard new reality.
• He celebrated “the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things” as the source of American greatness.
• He acknowledged that the free market’s “power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.”
• He evoked the enduring wisdom of America’s Founders, our founding documents, and our traditional virtues.
• At times he sounded just his predecessor in the weeks and months after September 11, 2001:
“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.”
Obama’s Challenge is To Reconcile His Conservative Rhetoric With His Liberal Allies
Our challenge now is to overcome our skepticism about a man who expressed a preference for redistributing wealth as a candidate and now celebrates the American entrepreneur.
The man who on the campaign trail found it nearly impossible to say the word “victory” in the context of Iraq and now vows that we will “outlast” and “defeat” our enemies.
For his part, President Obama’s challenge is to reconcile the center-right conservative rhetoric of his first presidential address with the liberals who helped him get elected and who dominate the congressional Democratic caucus.
As for us, our way forward is — or should be — simple: Where our new president lives up to his new conservative rhetoric, we should support him. Where he doesn’t, we should respectfully — and energetically — oppose him.
“Restore the Vital Trust Between a People and Their Government” – Withdraw the Geithner Nomination
One promise made by President Obama in his inaugural address calls for immediate action to be honored. President Obama said:
“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.”
The first test of whether the President means these words or not — whether he intends to make accountability, transparency and trust a part of his government — will come with how he proceeds with his nominee to be Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner.
We Need a Treasury Secretary Who Can Restore Broken Trust
Geithner was previously an employee of the International Monetary Fund and, as such, was responsible for paying his own self-employment (Social Security and Medicare) taxes. Despite being repeatedly informed of his obligation to pay his own taxes, signing documents promising to do so, and accepting compensation from the IMF for precisely this purpose, Geithner failed to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004.
What’s more, after the IRS audited him, Geithner paid his 2003 and 2004 taxes, but paid his 2001 and 2002 taxes only after he was nominated to be Treasury Secretary.
In all, Geithner has had to pay over $48,000 in delinquent taxes and interest.
Some — including some Republicans — are suggesting that the Geithner nomination is “too big to fail” — that the economic crisis demands that senators swallow their misgivings and confirm his nomination.
I believe the truth is precisely the opposite. At a time when our confidence in our financial institutions has been shattered and our trust in our governmental institutions is broken, we need a Treasury Secretary who can inspire both. Timothy Geithner is not that man.
President Obama should live up to his stirring words. He should withdraw the Geithner nomination.
Let us know what you think by participating in our poll at www.americansolutions.com.
What Works In Healthcare
A final passage of the President’s speech that I want to draw to your attention is this declaration:
“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.”
The size of government is directly related to its ability to be effective, of course. Bloated, politically powerful bureaucracies are not known for their speed and efficiency.
But let’s take President Obama at his word that he seeks more effective government.
Next Monday, at the National Press Club, I will apply the new President’s test of good government to our health care system. I will examine what’s broken about our system, and what can work to effectively deliver better health care at a lower cost.
For more information, go to http://www.healthtransformation.net/.