A view of the Obama inaugural

My head told me that Obama’s big day was history but my heart just wasn’t in it. The recession is too serious for that. US presidential politics are very important and all that but they’re also great escapism for the irritating chatter of the news channels. OK we noticed. Obama and the Chief Justice fluffed the oath between them. Then he got down to it. The rhetoric lifted but didn’t soar. There were no great soundbites. Thankfully there were no grandiose comparisons with Lincoln. Far more surprisingly, Obama offered no great surge of emotional release to the hundreds of thousands who had braved the biting cold to be part of the fulfillment of a black American dream. This was getting interesting…

Later.. I’ve just focused on a passage which while it applies to a big nation can speak equally well to a small divided community..

…because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself..

A yawn in cutaway came from a black man in the crowd. Dubya looked bored. This break from the past, Obama’s campaign and the inaugural tradition was good. Better and better..

Obama was grim, man. Sure, this inaugural spoke like all the others of challenges but these were challenges that could have filled the concrete rhetoric of a Gordon Brown speech. Presbyterian challenges in fact. Not about foreign crusades but the domestic economy.

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

.. everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.

..our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions –

There were bold thrusts at the neocons of the Cheney tendency and a sharp rebuke for Guantanamo and Abu Graib.

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, yet carefully, no apology came for the essential American way and no soft line was struck on terrorism.

We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, 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.

He was self –effacing too about his personal journey. Just a fleeting reference of pride in taking the oath as the son of a man “who sixty years ago would have been refused service in a restaurant.”

And then it was over, the moment of release left to the benediction from an elderly civil rights pastor.
Obama had spoken as an American, almost brutally not an African American. This was mature, this was daring. It was a declaration of purpose that will be remembered as much for what it didn’t say, as for what it said.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London