Tuesday, 20 January 2009
Only one piece of news today. This:.
The rest will be found just about everywhere.
It is an extraordinary occasion, of course, all broad brush, all mixed palette (in every possible way), now Aretha Franklin, now Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma, now a poem by Elizabeth Alexander, with a reverend here and a reverend there, and vast crowds and big coats, and the whole parade in the freezing cold as far as the eye can see. Sometimes I wouldn't mind being American. This was one of those occasions.
Because being American - part of 'a young country', as President Obama reminded us - the bouquets of hope seem more luxuriant and yet more ordinary. Because, as again he reminded us, America is a compound of everything and everyone, without a real stake in atavistic score settling. Because, though its brief history is far from universally glorious, it really is possible for the son of a poor black African immigrant to become president. (In Britain Eton tends to come in useful.) And, more than anything, it is possible to believe that a whole society can renew itself. It is possible to believe it because here is the living proof. Here, look at us, we have voted in a black president!
And that is actually momentous. Wonderful. Dazzling. Quite brilliant. Don't give us 'the patsy'. Don't give us 'the military-industrial complex'. Here he is, full straight eloquence and gravitas.
Is he a symbol as much as a person? Yes. But symbols are not hollow. There are times when they are solid, electric, stuffed full of life, dizzying and dangerous. They are the broad-brush poetry of life, and whoever said poetry was always on the side of the angels? Leni Riefenstahl's work is beautiful and symbolic and poetic and deadly poisonous.
Obama is the opposite kind of symbol. He has not stepped over the border into myth. He remains fully human. He gives hope that he, and we, may remain that way.
The speech was masterful. Darkness, modulating into hope and encouragement, but never quite letting go of the dark. It was the US version of Churchill's blood, toil, tears and sweat set piece. Being the US version there remained a line of playful joy running through it. Interestingly, he told his audience they were in a war, a war against what you might call, though he didn't use the word, terror. He told them there would be really hard times ahead. He told them about unemployment and global warming and invited them to choose ideals over safety. Now there is a complex idea. And, to my mind, a very good one. You've got to draw on all that good neighbourliness, can-do, folksiness and join it with toughness without rancour.
The text of the speech is everywhere, including here. You get the whole thing.My clips may disappear because of copyright here or there, but it's all safe for posterity somewhere. And it's nice to have them here.
I stopped everything to watch the event on CNN video live. I am glad I did. Go, Obama!
This shouldn't really be a tail-piece, it's far too good, but this is the best thing I have read on Gaza since the whole thing began. It's by Peter Ryley, who occasionally comments here as The Plump and contributes to the DSTPFW website as Gadgie. thank you, Peter.