Read or watch it here.
President Obama is at times described as an idealist and at other times as a pragmatist. Not that Obama's speeches are at times Kantian and other times Deweyian... Rather, at times the President inspires his listeners and paints a glorious canvas of our potential American landscape and at other times he's more realistic, focusing on dealing with the very real problems that our nation faces. Both aspects can be seen throughout his inaugural address.
Here is an example of a paragraph where he uses both idealism and pragmatism jointly.
"They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met. [pragmatism] On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. [idealism]"
Another subject that the President discusses is service.
"For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth. "
This is very encouraging as I fear that American pride in a job well done has severely diminished and in the words of Deuteronomy, we "have waxen fat." It would certainly be refreshing to see an era of service inspired by our new President.
Richard Rorty wrote about something he called "changing the conversation." When thought and languages evolve, often times the questions that bothered us melt away into history. Often confrontation changes to dialogue by simply changing the conversation. Facing off with skeptics, completely on their terms, will get you no place fast and so looking at things from another perspective, changing the way you talk about things can bring unforseen insights and answers to perrenial problems. That seems to be what President Obama is doing when he says the following: "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works..." He refuses to play the game of big vs. small government. By doing so, he avoids the stereotypes of a pervading Reagan philosophy and steers the conversation into new and promising territory.
He uses a similar tactic when he says, "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." By rejecting this dichotomy as false, he can go on to work out a balance between safety and ideals.
The President said,
"We will restore science to its rightful place..."
"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers."
The atheists, agnostics, skeptics, scientists, and others should be happy. Our new president is a giant step in the opposite direction of George W. This president has a healthy respect for science and even acknowledged non-believers.
"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. "
As the Preacher said, "A threefold cord is not quickly broken." I've written a lot recently about my appreciation for variety. Pluralism and mutual acceptance are among our greatest virtues and the President duly noted them.
When President Obama said, "... know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy," do you think he was referring at all to Hamas? (Someone else pointed this out to me and I think I agree that he was, at least implicitly.)
"This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. "
This is a fascinating theology, one I thought was foreign to Christianity. Especially in Calvanism, there is this notion of predetermination. I'm not a student of Christian Theology, but I thought that this and similar ideas were common. There are Jewish commentators that explain that when God said "Na'aseh"(Let us make) in Genesis, he was calling on his Creation to participate, and I've heard Jewish thought speak of the idea that we are partners with God, as it were. But I think that this statement takes it even further. The President is not saying that we are partners, but that God has handed over the job of shaping destiny, one that is uncertain at that. God is driving the world hands free and is either not knowledgeable, concerned, or responsible for it's outcome. (Look Mary, No Hands!) This smacks of deism. Perhaps the President has been reading a lot from our founding fathers. Whatever the case may be, the accusations of the anti-religious like "God made me do it [evil deeds]," and Steven Weinberg's quote, "But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion" in no way apply to President Obama's view on the matter.
Let's see what this guy can do. This speech has already influenced me. Since hearing it, I've been thinking about conserving energy and ways I can contribute to society. Hopefully, things will continue along these lines through his blog , tweets, and youtube addresses and people will be motivated to better things.
Read or watch it here.