Packer on yesterday's proceedings:
He delivered something better than rhetorical excitementhe spoke the truth, which makes its own history and carries its own poetry. As for the poet who had the impossible job of immediately following the new President, I’ll leave it to you to judge.
Allow me: she was pretty pedestrian (but better than Aretha).
Mulling over the address yesterday, I felt in retrospect that the restraint and classical tropes of the speech were deliberate and wise. From the moment he gave his election night victory speech, Obama has been signaling great caution in the face of immense challenges. The tone is humble. We know he can rally vast crowds to heights of emotion; which is why his decision to calm those feelings and to engage his opponents and to warn of impending challenges is all the more impressive. He's a man, it seems to me, who knows the difference between bravado and strength, between an adolescent "decider" and a mature president, between an insecure brittleness masquerading as power, and the genuine authority a real president commands. He presides. He can set a direction and a mood, but he invites the rest of us to move the ball forward: in a constitutional democracy, we are always the ones we've been waiting for.
He is not a messiah and does not act or speak like one. He's a traditionalist in many ways. A reader gets it:
The keynote of the speech is strikingly a conservative one--he calls us to remember the best of our traditions and history, to cherish them, to recall the sacrifices made to preserve them. He uses the conservative sense of loss against his predecessor, a feat of considerable rhetorical elegance. And the final image of Washington crossing the Delaware in that bitter winter that marked the real opening of our struggle for national identity--perfect. This man has the makings of real greatness. And yet, even now I cannot forget that politicians who inspire can also severely disappoint and require our critical scrutiny.
I have learned the lesson of misjudgment the hard way these past seven years - but not to the extent of being incapable of trust (especially now - when we have no option, given the immensity of the overlapping constitutional, economic, military and diplomatic crises we have inherited). And that trust, in turn, requires constant vigilance and skepticism and open minds to stay true and honest - even to the point of brutal criticism.
In this president, we at last have someone who doesn't see that criticism as disloyalty. He sees it as our responsibility. He's right. And it's about time Americans lived up to the challenge.
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