Obama’s robust repudiation of Bush and break from the past (News Analysis)

January 21st, 2009 - 12:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaChicago, Jan 21 (IANS) Belying expectations of soaring phraseology, President Barack Obama’s inaugural address was a resolute, robust and workmanlike repudiation of his predecessor’s policies.Standing barely 15 feet away former President George Bush, Obama kept his tone equanimous but left no doubt in anybody’s mind that he was unapologetically breaking free from the past eight years.

“As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” Obama said in what could only be described as a direct rejection of President Bush’s policies of abridging civil liberties behind the cover of security.

“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,” he said.

Taken together these assertions sounded like a comprehensive denunciation.

Even on a seemingly non-political subject such as science he could not resist himself when he said: “We will restore science to its rightful place.”

He was unambiguously saying that science had lost its primacy in national discourse under the previous administration. During the past eight years from global warming to stem cell research and from evolution to climate research, everything came under a rejectionist’s glare. It was clear that Obama seeks to reverse all that.

While Bush was widely seen in India as particularly friendly towards the country, Obama must have won quick hearts by speaking of America’s multicultural and multireligious character. In saying “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers,” he probably became the first US president to mention Hindus in an inaugural address.

Considering that Hindus make up barely one percent of America’s population the reference to Hindus as a distinct group in the country was a surprise to many. He was obviously motivated by a wish to underline how inclusive his administration wants to be, particularly by also mentioning “non-believers.” In a polity that had been dominated by evangelical Christians for the past eight years, this was a dramatic departure.

Even the symbolism of using his entire name Barack Hussein Obama while taking the oath constituted a radical departure in a country where a large number of people at the very least find it incongruous, if not downright unacceptable, to someone with an identifiably Christian name in its presidents.

The rise of a president of a mixed African and Caucasian heritage nearly 150 years after Abraham Lincoln led the campaign to abolish slavery represents a profound shift. This first became evident when Obama got 53 percent of the popular vote, much higher than Bush did at the height of the so-called evangelical awakening in 2004.

It is clear that what began as one fiercely ambitious politician’s quest for the world’s most powerful office a little less than two years ago is turning out to be an expression of collective aspiration.

(21.01.2009 - Mayank Chhaya can be reached at m@literateworld.com)

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