Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural thoughts

Three years into college, going home still inspires a sense of comfort not quite like any other. Aside from the familiar settings and my favorite foods, this sense also arises from my family’s unfaltering encouragement to use my talents to the fullest extent possible. This time home, I was fortunate enough to see President Barack Obama deliver a message that was different in style but remarkably similar in substance.

In his inaugural address, Obama encouraged Americans to recall our nation’s past greatness and to fulfill its potential in the future, much to the delight of the hundreds of thousands who joined my friends and me in the unticketed section of the Mall. We could barely see the podium, but there were deafening cheers whenever any member of the Obama family appeared on the Jumbotrons, and boos whenever W., Dick Cheney or even Joe Lieberman appeared. I had originally hoped to get into the ticketed section nearer to the Capitol, but ultimately I was satisfied with my lot; any group of people too civilized to not boo Dick Cheney is not a group I want to be in.

I felt that there were two parts of Obama’s speech with especially notable consequences for our generation. The first was his unhesitating declaration that the US is “ready to lead once more.” In a time where many public intellectuals are calling for the US to accept a new role as one of many players on the global stage, this statement revealed Obama’s conviction that US leadership remains indispensable.

The second part was the call for Americans to “find meaning in something greater than themselves.” That’s not something that many Princetonians do willingly (I confess to having this fault). If Obama succeeds in instilling a “spirit of service,” he would significantly transform Ivy Leaguers’ career goals and prospects. But this task might end up being more difficult to accomplish than universal health care and the Iraq withdrawal combined.

It was nice to hear Obama say that “we will restore science to its rightful place,” and to hear that we’ll invest more in alternative energy (although I’m not sure about the engineering behind “[harnessing] the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars”). Conversely, the paragraph about defeating terrorism felt cheesy and would have induced eye-rolls if it had come from the lips of W. or McCain.

There were other low points of the day. Getting out of DC was a nightmare, and the inaugural poem didn’t seem like much of one to me (way to go Yale). But overall, it was an unforgettable event that I’m glad I could attend. Shout out to the registrar for scheduling my friends’ and my exams during last week.

The full text of Obama’s speech is available here.


a_c said...

If Obama succeeds in instilling a “spirit of service,”

More likely he'll force mandatory service on high school students and coerce college ones, as he said in a campaign speech and reaffirmed upon election.

The CliffNotes version:

* Public schools will have their funding cut unless they force their students to perform 50 hours of service a year. Since for most people, public school is the only choice they've got, this amounts to a mandatory service program for every child in a public school in the the meantime, he's going to inject the government into local private industry, forcing them to accept these kids and their 'service'.

* For college students: "I have proposed an annual American Opportunity Tax Credit of $4,000. To receive this credit, we’ll require 100 hours of public service." This is one of those things that sounds okay on the surface. It's voluntary, right? The problem is that it's such a good deal for students that they'll all take part in it. That's $40/hr, more than most of us will make at graduation (minus ibankers, of course), and several times more than a summer internship would pay - particularly for lab slaves. So instead of gaining experience in private industry or academia while in college, he would rather have us jammed into makework government programs. Businesses that rely on summer students will be destroyed, career paths, particularly for poorer students, will he hijacked...and a huge injection of cash into the college environment might simply result in tuition inflation. So now kids will HAVE to work these jobs.

* Finally, if you're young and don't have a job, he's going to create a huge government jobs program and enlist you in it. I assume it won't pay just the current minimum wage, since Obama opposes that. So it will displace all the current jobs that rely on young minimum wage workers. Imagine - a new government program employing 2 million young people, plus all the overhead to manage it. This would be a huge expansion of government.

President-elect WEBSITE: The original note was changed to more palatable fare without fanfare, retraction, or acknowledgment. Now politicians do this all the time, so it's not much of a criticism of the Obama administration to point this out. It is, however, a small rebuke to those who believed that his election would somehow lead to a quantum leap in political transparency and integrity. The original Obama blurb, before they were called on it and cloaked it in nicer sounding language:

"The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year."

a_c said...

"and boos whenever W., Dick Cheney or even Joe Lieberman appeared."

Stay classy, liberals.

"The first was his unhesitating declaration that the US is “ready to lead once more.”"

Hey, I thought that enlightened intellectuals were supposed to celebrate multiculturalism and affirm the greatness of other nations. In practice, this means criticizing the US, and praising idealized versions of every other country.

What, now that your guy won, patriotism ("the last refuge of scoundrels" during the Bush years) is suddenly hip again?