January 19, 2009

WWBS? /WWYS? (What Will Barack Say?)/(What Would You Say?)

What would you say to the country, to the world, if it was you standing on the Capital steps at noon Tues. Everyone is watching, waiting to hear your message. Even your 10 year old daughter knows it better be good. I have been thinking about this question reading a couple of other pretty good speeches our presidents have given in times of crisis. Lincoln's second inaugural address, short but a powerful call for peace:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
FDR's 1931 inaugural speech which opens with the famous 'nothing to fear but fear itself' line is a powerful rebuke of greed and a call for compassion. It resonates today with an almost Nostradamus like prescience
....we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone. More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.
Many have mentioned JFK's call to service and sacrifice. Kennedy's speech was not one about economic challenge, in fact he faced a country flush with power and plenty. It was a speech about finding a path to peace in the world and as such it also has lessons for next inaugural address. We all know its' message to America but read on and see what Kennedy call on the world to do:
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.
Certainly both by calendar and circumstance we should also consider Martin Luther King's famous "dream" speech . Just before King begins the Dream section of his sermon he speaks directly the crowd about the conditions that the faced at home:
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.
The new President must at some point address just this issue. He must acknowledge that the country has changed, dramatically changed in the last 65 years and that we should be proud of just how far we have come. He must also make it clear that we still have many problems facing us. Problems that are as troubling as the ones that brought MLK to DC so long ago. Problems of economic, racial and social justice that divide us just as segregation split us in King's time. He must tell us that we cannot progress as a nation unless we put the same effort forth and make the same progress on the issues that divide us now as we did about civil rights in the last 40 years.
Like Roosevelt Obama must focus us on the path forward. He must force us to accept that many of our most pressing problems were not done to us but created by us as individuals and as a country. To make progress we must accept personal responsibility for our actions; in many cases our greed; that has led us into economic collapse. He should tell us there is a price that we must pay as individuals, the government will not make everyone whole. He must also call on us as a country to must make sure that no individual, no family, pays too high a price. That, as a country, we support those who most need our help.
Like Kennedy he must assure the world that we remain both defenders of justice and strong allies against our mutual enemies. But he must go further and define a new role for the US as a partner in the battle against hunger, hatred and injustice wherever they exist. Obama must make it clear that our strength comes both from our commitment to justice and or commitment to cooperation. Likewise, he must tell the country that we are weakest when are forced to make war and must make war only when we are given no choice.
Finally, like Lincoln he must reassure us that if we work together as a nation, if we put hate and greed aside, if we put conscience and country ahead of personal contentment then we can be assured that our lives, our children's lives and the lives of their children will be as blessed as the lives that we have lived and more so. Finally the new President must say that only by working for common interests and can we be assured that government of the people, by the people for the people shall not perish from this earth. 1
Ciao
1 - I didn't write that last part. It was the last line of another pretty good little speech.
Note:It is really nice to come to this point in our history and to be writing and thinking about the future and not about the past. It didn't have to be that way. For a long time I thought my last post before the inauguration would be about the sins of the last 8 years and not the path we must walk forward. As a country we are incredibly fortunate.

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