A day of hope and relief

Yesterday’s inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris was a joyful day of renewed hope for America and a day of relief, that this four-year long nightmare under Donald Trump is over and that, finally, we will have a national strategy to combat the Covid pandemic which has now killed over 400,000 Americans.

It was a day of hope and relief for this nation but also personally, as my wife and I drove out to Cal State University in Northridge, in the flat, enormous San Fernando Valley that is part of Los Angeles, to get vaccinated against Covid. It took about half an hour and we never left our car. We still have another shot in a few weeks, but we are on our way, relieved and with renewed hope that everyday life in America will improve, not only for us but for everyone.

So while yesterday was a day of hope and relief, it was also a day of joy. Joe Biden’s inaugural speech hit just the right notes for this divided, suffering, and confused nation. What has happened to America? That has been a common question these few past years with the chaos, the meanness, the lies, the ignorance emanating from the White House. As the pandemic swept over the country, the lack of leadership became more and more evident. No one was at the helm, because the man in the White House not only did not want to do anything, but he did not know what to do. That’s the danger of having a political amateur run a country.

The contrast, as Joe Biden was sworn in as America’s 46th President, could not be more stark. It was a seasoned, trusted, measured politician who took over, who urged unity and promised professional leadership. Here was also a man with a good heart that further reassured the country and gave it new hope just hours after his predecessor slipped out of Washington, DC almost unnoticed, still refusing to concede and refusing to be part of the ceremonial traditions on the steps of the Capitol. Yes, Trump broke all historical traditions by his absence, but no one seemed to miss him and maybe everyone was better for it. His presence would have been a distraction at the glorious event that took place yesterday in front of a pandemic-empty National Mall.

Instead, Biden and Harris got to have it all to themselves and they clearly cherished the moment. Biden’s speech, 21 minutes long, was superb, hitting all the right notes — the best inaugural speech he has ever heard, said Fox News’ Chris Wallace. Biden talked about unity, about lies and the importance truth, and about democracy, which we have learned once more, he said, that it is “precious.” And although democracy prevailed this time, referring to the Trump years and to the storming of the Capitol just two weeks ago, we have also learned that it is “fragile.”

It was a speech that America needed at this time, as one writer put it in today’s Los Angeles Times, and so, the start of the Biden Administration is full of promise and hope that he and the country will be able to erase the stain of the Trump years and steer America onto a better path. It won’t be easy, although the Democrats now control the White House as well as both branches of Congress. The resistance from the Republicans to change will be fierce, as Trump and Trumpism still control the party. How long that will last is anyone’s guess, but right now it’s unlikely that Biden and the Democrats will have any easy victories although so much is needed to be done.

Obama’s historic speech in Havana — finally!

The tragedy in Brussels and the endless election campaign came to overshadow President Obama’s historic speech in Havana, Cuba, yesterday.

So I am posting it here because of its  importance. Finally, the United States and Cuba have broken with the past and started on the road towards a new, constructive relationship.

I am also posting it because of its eloquence, Obama at his best.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEw3H0C-Lj8

 

Obama on guns — and his State of the Union finally took off

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union last night was not, I am afraid, a speech to be long remembered.  It was good, but ordinary, although at the same time “extraordinarily ambitious,” as Ezra Klein writes on his Wonkblog:

“Imagine, for a moment, that President Obama managed to pass every policy he proposed tonight. Within a couple of years, every four-year-old would have access to preschool. The federal minimum wage would be at $9 — higher than it’s been, after adjusting for inflation, since 1981. There’d be a cap-and-trade program limiting our carbon emissions and a vast infrastructure investment to upgrade our roads and bridges. Taxes would be higher, guns would be harder to come by, and undocumented immigrants would have a path to citizenship. America would be a noticeably different country.”

That is unlikely to happen, as Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus writes, but if Obama meets his most significant and realistic goals – “immigration reform, even modest steps on gun control, an end to the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan, a free-trade agreement with Europe and, oh yes, implementation of Obamacare — and manages to keep the economy growing, even if slowly, that’s not a bad list. Plenty of two-term presidents have done worse.”

What Obama mentioned in his speech is clearly popular with the American public, according to Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky but “the Republicans just sat there like statues ignoring” them. They are such crybabies every day about what Obama allegedly does to try to make them look bad. They’re doing plenty well at that themselves.”

“Long gone,” writes The New Yorker’s John Cassidy on his blog Rational Irrationality “is the era when he (Obama) treated Republicans as reasonable men and women with whom he could do business. Nowadays, he is in permanent campaign mode. With the ongoing dispute over taxes and spending still far from decided, he is intent on rallying his supporters whilst depicting his opponents as crazed ideologues and craven defenders of the privileges enjoyed by the ultra-rich. “

Well, ok. Still, in my view Obama’s fifth State of the Union never really took off until the end and when the subject was guns and gun control. “They deserve a vote,” Obama repeated time and again:

“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote; the families of Newtown deserve a vote; the families of Aurora deserve a vote; the families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country.  Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight.  But we were never sent here to be perfect.”

And the President returned to his them from the Inauguration about inclusiveness, about “us” and “we.”

”The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem.  They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue.  But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party.  They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can.  For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.”

Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker thinks that Obama’s urgent message that “they deserve a vote” may come to serve “as the rallying cry for 2013,”  and so “if last night was any indication, the two years to come will be far more confrontational. “

So, no political peace is to be expected in Washington.  But Obama, a much different and more self-confident President than in his first term,  got to say his peace, and he made his troops happy.

It’s “we” and “together” in Obama’s inclusive America

President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address today was all about ”we,” and ”we, the people,” about ”equality” and ”together.”  It was a clear and straight forward statement by the re-elected president about his view of America, a liberal/progressive view in an inclusive America  — a country for everyone.

The speech was elegant, inspiring, and passionate, given by someone who looked forward to his second term in the White House with renewed strength and great self-confidence, and it was the highlight of a most festive day in Washington, DC, where the crowds were not as large as four years ago, when almost two million people jammed The National Mall in spite of very chilly weather. But they were just as enthusiastic, clearly cherishing the moment that America’s first black president had been re-elected and handed the nation’s trust for another four years.

The president talked about America’s “never-ending journey” and that so much is remains to be done.

”Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people…This is our generation’s ask – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life and Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American.

The speech was an unabashed re-affirmation of Obama’s basic liberal political philosophy, saying that  ”preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

He was full of hope and faith in America, if the nation stuck together:

“America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it—so long as we seize it together.”

He talked about equal pay for women, equal treatment for gays, right to vote for everyone,  about the importance of social security, Medicare and Medicaid, the right of immigrants, and about gun control, without mentioning the word but referring to the ”quite lanes of Newtown” and keeping the nation’s children ”safe from harm.”

“We, the people,  still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit;  but we reject the belief that America must choose between the caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”

Obama’s second inaugural address was free of political attacks and party politics. It contained no direct attacks on the Republicans, but, on the other hand, one could interpret the whole speech as Obama putting down his marker, that this is what he believes in, this is his America, and this is what he is going to fight for during his second term.

The details in his political program will come in his State of the Union address to Congress on February 12. That will also likely mark the continuation of Washington’s political battle. Will that fight be as merciless as before today’s inauguration? Probably, and maybe even more so… But, at least it is now totally clear where Barack Obama stands, and that feels liberating.