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President Obama

I was at work last night, but I got to half-watch the inauguration. Wasn't it amazing? Congratulations, you Americans! Hail to the Chief!

Rick Warren seemed to make all the right noises, I suppose, although I was too busy muttering about the separation of church and state to really pay attention. Aretha Franklin (and her hat!) - fabulous! I'm sure the classical musicians were too, but I was mildly perplexed by the musical choice of Lord Of The Dance - I hadn't expected the spectre of Michael Flatley to rise up and disturb the proceedings.

Obama's inaugural address (text and video) was sheer brilliance. And his speech-writer is only 27 - I can't decide whether that's depressing or inspiring. It hit so many great spots, while still keeping in all the religion and uber-patriotism that seems to be compulsory.

There was something for pretty much everybody, which Obama seems very good at. A bi-partisan style of politics seems much closer than it's ever been, and certainly much closer than it is in the UK, even though there's much fewer differences between Labour and Conservatives policies than there are between Democrat and Republican. The two phrases that got (slightly muffled) whoops of joy from me were "we will restore science to its rightful place" and "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers." Wow. Did NOT expect that - at the start of the sentence, I was gearing myself up for some serious tutting and eye-rolling. Non-believers getting a positive mention - what is the world coming to? But looking at the speech again, there's so many bits I could quote with happiness and hope.

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. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics.

An acknowledgement that the oil issue is connected to the war(s) America's involved in and of global warming in the same sentence, and then a mention of "data and statistics"! That may be an odd thing to get excited about, but Ben Goldacre's been depressing me about our politicians' and media's grasp of the subject, whereas I suspect Obama knows the value of evidence-based knowledge as well as the more abstract issues he went on to talk about.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - that a nation cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

I don't suppose this is anything other politicians haven't said, but I can't help hope that Obama not only means it, but has the competence and imagination to make these principles work.

As for our common defence, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

Yes, yes, 100% yes. "Those who would give up essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety", etc. The constant "security theatre" and eroding of civil and human rights is a far greater threat to our ideals and way of life than any enemy we currently face, and that's true of both the US and the UK. Also cunningly worded to appeal to right-wingers, implying that it's more patriotic and stronger to defend your rights than to bunker down in fear of what might happen.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Imagine what the world would be like now if Bush had thought like this. (No Team America: World Police, for a start!)

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.

I'm still making internal squeeing noises whenever I see that, although conversations elsewhere have me questioning the "non-believers" terminology. But when 53% of the American public are happy to admit to pollsters that they wouldn't vote for an atheist - and I suspect the true figure is higher - it's something that NEEDS to be said. And repeated, hopefully.

Random Inauguration links:

  • Inauguration video from the LA Times, with a Martin Luther King clip predicting a black president within 40 years, clips from the inauguration, and reactions from various people including the Heroes cast who stopped filming to watch.

  • The BBC Wordles the inauguration speech. Notable lack of "change", there, actually.

  • The new White House site, notably the blog and the technology agenda. "Restore Scientific Integrity to the White House: Restore the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best-available, scientifically-valid evidence and not on ideological predispositions." I <3 you. Please come and govern here. And bring your "safeguard internet privacy" and "improve science teaching" policies, too.

  • CNN's "The Moment" photo blending thingy with Microsoft Photosynth - combines all the photos people have sent in of Obama taking the oath, so you can scroll and drag to see it from any distance and any angle. Technology awe!

  • And Anna Pickard at the Guardian reviews the internet reaction to the inauguration.


Jan. 21st, 2009 02:53 pm (UTC)
With the whole non-believer thing, I'm REALLY glad he said it. It's definitely a step in the right direction. I do think it's funny that we "non-believers" are getting all excited for one tiny little mention, yet the whole inauguration was filled with "God this and God that"...but ya gotta start somewhere, right?

Like I Tweeted to Penn Jillette last night when he said pretty much the same thing, I said that maybe someday we'll have an Atheist president. It could happen. I mean, look, a black man just became president and no one thought that would ever happen either! It might take some more time, but the possibility is out there. It took a cultural change of attitude. The same thing will need to happen on the gay/lesbian front as well as the non-religion follower front. Cripes folks, we're all just people, dammit! LOL

It's just gonna take some dialog and effort to make the "believers" out there realize that just because we don't necessarily believe in a "higher power", it doesn't mean that we worship Satan, are evil baby eaters or are out to destroy their way of life. It doesn't mean we can't be good people. In fact, traditionally, most atheists and agnostics adhere to the Judeo-Christian ethic. It boils down to the Golden Rule, really. Treat others as you'd have other treat you. So once the more ignorant (and unfortunately more numerous) of the bible-thumping believers get that through their thick skulls, the closer we'll all be being able to live in harmony. And that one little word, "non-believer" being broadcast worldwide in Obama's speech is definitely a great start!

Great post here by the way, Caz!
Jan. 22nd, 2009 12:33 am (UTC)
Word. (And thank you!)

I honestly can't imagine an atheist US president - and I'm only slightly more hopeful about a UK openly atheist prime minister - but the example of black people and Obama is sooo encouraging. I hope he can help to make some progress on the sexuality and religion fronts too.
Jan. 22nd, 2009 07:48 am (UTC)
British government at all levels is stuffed with non-believers though. It's seriously not an issue here. One of the Whitehall departments did a diversity survey that discovered that they had nearly as many non-believers as Christians. People talk a lot about people being 'openly' this or that; but the British way is normally to just not mention stuff. Whereas it's not just that someone who was openly atheist couldn't be the US President, it's that people look to see the depth of faith of their public officials. In the UK people just don't care very much. On the other hand, somebody who was atheist to the extent that they wouldn't, say, give a reading in church at a memorial service, would have some trouble.
Jan. 22nd, 2009 08:08 am (UTC)
I'm not surprised at the results of the Whitehall department, really, but I'd be interested to see the same done for MPs, or ministers. Didn't Nick Clegg have some trouble when he said (or implied) that he didn't believe in God, and subsequently backtracked a bit? I take your point about being "openly atheist", and it's obviously going to be easier to identify religious people because religion is active where atheism is passive, mostly - the papers aren't looking out for what people don't do, or don't say.


bad wolf
Notes from extinction

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