Tue, 20 Jan 2009 18:30:23 +0000 – "I, Barack Hussein Obama." There are some words that will ring across the world!
[caption id="attachment_5918" align="aligncenter" width="253" caption="Barack Obama, left, takes the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts to become the 44th president of the United States at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)"][/caption]
And with the recitation of his middle name, Barack Obama's outreach to Muslims worldwide is underway, even as a new chapter in race relations begins here at home.
As my friend Lloyd Green, a lawyer in New York City, put it a moment ago, to hear Aretha Franklin singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee," including the lyrics, "land of the Pilgrims' pride," is to think back to the change in America over the last five decades; not so long ago, Malcolm X could say of African-Americans, "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us." And just a few years later, in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and riots erupted across the country. At that point, it seemed that America would never get to the promised land of racial harmony.
But now, we are a lot closer.
And yet as for the speech itself, it was, surprisingly, workmanlike at best. Obama is a great orator, and he has delivered some great orations, full of memorable phrases and cadences, but this was not one of them.
I am tempted to say that Obama's Inaugural Address was more like a State of the Union Address, except that it was more elbow-y than one of those; it was full of digs at the outgoing president, on domestic policy-- "our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions that time has surely passed"--as well as and foreign policy.
And yet, the flat speech notwithstanding, I am not the only one who sees a bit of hubris in the new administration. Take a look at the picture that's right there on the new White House Web site: The headline, next to Obama's picture, reads, "Change Has Come to America." As another friend, Marc Babej, a branding expert in Manhattan, said to me just now, "This is supposed to be an Inauguration, not a coronation."
But again, the big thing to watch is the change in his direction toward the Muslim world: "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."
That's a change for sure. We'll have to see how it works out.