I can forgive the President for his stumbles with the Oath of Office. He was nervous, they were not his words, and his staff had failed to place the words on his prompt screen. It is a detail they will doubtless get right the next time he has to reproduce a traditional statement.
I do not agree with the carping critics that the speech was a let down. The House of Commons decided to have a vote on the financial crisis at the opening of the President’s remarks. I decided to watch it in the Commons tea room so I missed very little, as that provided the nearest TV to the Chamber. Some MPs and the Tea Room staff assembled to see it. The staff from a wide range of backgrounds were visibly moved by the powerful rhetoric, and by the sight of the US coming together after the dreadful past of segregation and racial hatred. Only a few hard bitten MPs were more cynical.
I thought he spoke well. He did not need to dwell on the success of the movement for racial equality – he is its embodiment. He did weave in a wider US history to his approach. As a Conservative he said nothing I wanted to condemn, and some things I admired. I fully support his passionate defence of opportunity, and of freedom, set within the message that people have to do things for themselves to protect that freedom and to grasp those opportunities. As a Brit I had to take the memories of the US struggle against the clumsy British government to gain the Republic’s independence on the chin. It was entirely fair, even if I would like to have seen it balanced by some friendly remark towards us for our more recent support of the US and our shared heritage of freedom and democracy.
I felt let down not by the words nor by the event, but by the actions.
If he is serious about closing Guantanamo, why doesn’t he just announce a date or process for closure? Guantanamo became a symbol of a great democracy failing to live up to its own standards. We democrats condemn torture and believe in no detention without charge and trial. Why is he delaying even military justice for its inmates by seeking another 120 day delay in the trials about to edge forward? If he wishes to transfer them to civilian trials then just do so.
He promised that he would start the withdrawal from Iraq on Day One. This morning there is hesitation in the briefing about that. In a way George Bush pre-empted him, but it would still be good to see the President instructing the Generals to take the necessary steps as promised.
Whilst they were partying on Pennsylvania Avenue, Wall Street was having a terrible day. The transition team should have had something ready to tell the markets about how the Obama Presidency would handle the banking crisis and the recession that might be reassuring. Instead Wall Street sees more of the same – more massive state borrowing to prop up ailing banks, and more state borrowing to create some jobs through Federal programmes whilst many more jobs are lost in the private sector.
He told us it would be tough, and he rightly united his country to take the actions needed to change America. He has little time to spell out exactly what changes he wants, as the markets are already spooked. He implied that the USA has to change its approach to the economy, by becoming more energy self sufficient and living more within its means. We know that, so why not get on with it?