Dr. Fraser- Point of View
January 25, 2013

Obama’s Second Inaugural Address (Part 1)

The speech delivered by President Barrack Obama at his Inauguration on January 21st has been a major talking point around the US and, for that matter, in other parts of the world. The Progressives/Liberals liked it, while the Conservatives dismissed and denounced the direction to which it appears to be pointing. {{more}}America has, first of all, subverted the meanings of words like progressive and liberal. Some of them even see Obama as a Socialist. But what a lot of the world accepts as run-of-the-mill today, like health care, some Americans feel threatened by it. So, we have first to bear this in mind. A lot of his speech would therefore have been no big thing in many parts of the world, except that it was about America.

I liked Obama’s speech. For me it was a call to arms for Americans to live up to the ideals that the Constitution articulated about 224 years ago. America had lost its way in how it professed itself to the rest of the world.
The land of freedom and opportunity has never existed for a large number of its citizens. So Obama, speaking on the holiday given to celebrate the birth and ideals of Martin Luther King, reminded them that “through blood drawn by lash, and blood drawn by sword”, they were made aware of the fact that “no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half slave, and half free.” But the job was not finished, the journey was not complete. The Constitution states that all men are created equal, but for Obama the journey will not be complete until they are able “to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our times.”

Blacks, women, immigrants, poor people generally and Gay people are still awaiting the promises that the Constitution offered; a land of opportunity and freedom. On the issue of Gays he notes, “Our journey is not complete until our Gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
I know his reference to the rights of Gays will not go down well with a number of people in our community who often cling to the Bible to show that being Gay is against God. Let them remember that white people had used the same Bible to show that blacks could not enjoy the same freedoms that they do. Men, on the other hand, have made similar proclamations about women. You do not have to like Gay people to recognise that it is their civil right. If we do not, then we give a lie to our own struggles as women and as black people.

What was fascinating and earth shattering about Obama’s speech was the part dealing with foreign policy, for he seems to be pointing the country in a different direction: “We the people still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.” The American people know the price they have had to pay but they are heirs to “those who won the peace, and not just war.” And he suggests that “sworn enemies” could be turned into “the surest of friends.” “We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully.
Not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.” He must have realised, as Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick did in their book “The Untold History of the US”, that “There have been times when American values and achievement have led the way to major advances in human history and social progress. But there have been just as many occasions, if not more when the US has undermined human progress in pursuing its policies.”

This is a tall order for the President in a Congress and among a large number of Americans who are naturally hawks and see force as the only way forward. Just after his election to office in 2009, especially when he went to the Middle East, he appeared to be moving in that direction, but America is America and the President does not necessarily run things, for there will be opposition, even in his own party. Obama has often been criticized for not doing more for black people and for securing world peace, but his job is difficult.
An American president does not really have as much power as a prime minister. Special interest groups and lobbyists have become a prominent part of American politics and hold Congressmen and women captive. You simply have to look at the activities of the National Rifle Association to realise that. Despite all of this, Obama has to some extent been able to show a different face of America in his approach to foreign policy. Left to many in Congress, including John McCain, who cannot forgive him for his licking in 2008, we should already have invaded Syria and Iraq.
We are appalled by what is happening in some of those countries, but is the answer to jump in blindly as we did in Iraq? America has to rethink its foreign policy and not see itself as some self-appointed Saviour for all the perceived sins in the rest of the world. But let us not go overboard with this, for Obama has to deal with certain realities and mindsets so “We will defend our people, and uphold our values through strength of arms and the rule of law.” But he also sees America as “the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe.” (To be continued)
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.