Black men and women of my generation and older witnessed something today that we never dreamed we would see in our lifetimes. A black man took the oath of office as President of the United States of America. As the day progressed past the conclusion of his inaugural address, much was written about his domestic statements and there was some jubilation from the right concerning his tough stance against our enemies.
There was one subtle point in his address that I have not seen discussed and which moved me greatly:
To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.
Even though the President was addressing “leaders around the globe” he was really bypassing them and talking straight to the citizens of their countries. In this one sentence, President Obama took his rightful place as leader of the free world. He was basically saying, “Afghans, Iraqis, Israelis, Palestinians, North Koreans, I know you are decent people who want to live in peace and I will not judge you by your leaders. On the contrary, I will tell your leaders that they must do right by you because you do not want your progress hijacked by leaders with a negative agenda.” Obama believes to his core that all people of the world are fundamentally decent. He knows that for the people of the world to live in peace, their governments must be reasoned with, partnered with and pressured to create the environment of peace that their citizens so desire.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
Again, Obama speaks to the people of the world and expands his theme of domestic individual responsibility to a global scale. It is the responsibility of every wealthy nation to help those less fortunate, just as it is the responsibility of every wealthy individual to help those less fortunate. Perhaps one day this will be called the Obama Doctrine and my what a nice change that is from the Bush Doctrine that was centered around violent response to terror.
Even when Obama addresses terror he does not use the “shoot first, ask questions later” approach. Even in his defense of his country he invokes our spirit.
… and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
“You cannot outlast us.” This says more than simply we will kick your ass. It says that we are more than our twin towers. We are a country full of will, and spirit and optimism and no foe can take that away from us. You see Obama understands that the aim of the terrorist is not to kill people or destroy buildings. The aim of the terrorist is to kill the will, the spirit of a people. Imagine the satisfaction that Osama Bin Laden has gotten from Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, torture and rendition. Over the past seven years, terrorism has successfully changed our country. As of today, no more:
As for our common defense, 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. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. 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.
Today, the new leader of the free world, Barack Hussein Obama announced to the citizens of the world that America is back. A new day has dawned here. America will once again lead by example, with compassion, responsibility and truth.