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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shifting Images

Second Wind

There is nothing exceptional about a US Presidential Inauguration Ceremony -- at least in terms of pageantry. It is a formal, somber occasion where the newly elected president is sworn in.

However, as I watched the Inauguration on television, sitting in my home only a few miles from the actual event, I became increasingly aware of the fact that democracy is not only about the peoples' right to elect a leader of their choice; an important part of the process is the peaceful and smooth transition of power.

The January 21st Inauguration coincided with the day that Americans honour Martin Luther King Jr. The overlap conveyed a poignant message: that the reelection of the first black president is in a way the realisation of the civil rights leader's prophetic "dream!"

However, the perpetuity of Dr. King's legacy is not the only reason I was inspired to write this piece. What resonated with me most about the Inauguration Ceremony was that it was a "celebration of democracy." An event where the elected representative of the people took his oath in a peaceful and transparent manner, in full public view.

In his inaugural speech, Obama stated his future vision and agenda with conviction and the confidence of a second term president. The remarkable thing is that there were no accusatory comments and no attempts at taking credit for the success stories of the past four years.

On the contrary, the president spoke with a measured degree of humility. He addressed issues affecting all segments of the population -- women, gays, gun-control activists, climate change proponents. His reference to the Proclamation of Independence that all men are created "equal with inalienable rights" aptly captured the diverse composition of the country.

However, while asserting that these rights are "self evident," the president pointed out that they are not "self executing" since citizens must continuously strive to preserve them.

What was truly amazing was the absence of acrimony on both sides -- partisan politics was masked by a degree of civility and tolerance. In giving the president his moment of victory, the 48% who did not vote for him actually paid their tribute to the democratic system.

The bipartisan mood of the ceremony was a testimony to the fact that, while there may be ideological differences, the democratic process must be allowed to thrive, no matter what.

Some may consider this to be hypocritical because the political battles will continue to rattle the country once again when Congress reconvenes. However, I would term it as "hypocrisy for a greater purpose," since it is a reminder that politics needs to be played out in the House of Representatives and not in the streets.

The message assumes greater significance for many of us who have been exposed to the politics of disruption in other parts of the world.

Lest I give the impression that the US is an idyllic country without any problems, let me clarify that I do not suffer from any illusions that this is a Utopian State. With two wars weighing on her shoulders, the economy still fragile, employment figures falling short of expectations, gun violence and racial tensions fracturing social cohesion, the country has much to reckon with in the next four years.

In addition, the president is faced with a somewhat hostile world; seething with instability. He has been criticised, by both liberals and conservatives, for not delivering on his first term promises. A second term provides him with the opportunities to tie up the lose ends and confront new challenges with more determination and resoluteness.

Other than exceptional situations, second terms are about a president's "legacy" and his place in history. Barack Obama does not have to worry about history since he will always be known as the first African American President. As for his "legacy" only time will deliver a verdict.

In terms of pointers about the future, the president's inaugural address was both pragmatic and idealistic. With characteristic deftness, he linked his vision to the ideals of the founding fathers and the civil rights movement.

At the practical level he touched upon some controversial, hard-core issues that he is willing to tackle in his second term. Whether the rhetoric will be followed by actions remains to be seen.

For me, personally, the inauguration brought a closure to the negative campaign rhetoric leading up to the presidential elections. As an ordinary citizen, I felt the inclusiveness of the system when the president affirmed, that "freedom is (not) reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few."

And at the risk of seeming gullible, I wish to believe that President Obama will try to balance economic growth and social justice on the domestic front and the show of force and judicious negotiations in dealing with foreign powers.

The writer is a renowned Rabindra Sangeet exponent and a former employee of the World Bank.

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Like so many minorities in the US, you are blinded by Obama's humble background, and failed to notice the sternness in his voice when he demanded that the Republicans should join him in making America a better place. There was a lot of the same rhetoric that he used during the campaign. The only reason Obama won the second term is because of the Black, Latin and women votes, as they were again swayed by his promises, and it is doubtful that he will be able to fulfil his promises in the next four years. While you were watching the ceremony from the comfort of your home--at the same time were you thinking of the thousands of homeless people in Washington DC who were shivering from cold on the roadside? They were standing only a few hundred yards from the Inaugural venue. There fanfare of the Inaugural day and the amount of money that were spent to make the day a success, was a stark contest to what millions of Americans are going through today in this bad economy. You claimed Obama showed humility--not quite so. I only heard promises and more empty promises. Let's face the fact that so far Obama hasn't been able to fix the bipartisan gap and America is a much divided nation today than it was four years ago. I take all your Obama praising with a grain of salt: I have been watching him closely in the last four years. January 21st was Martin Luther King Day-- and the day was overshadowed by the Inaugural ceremony. To put it simply, Obama stole the day from this great Civil Rights leader. All eyes were on him, and people were speculating which designer gown Mrs Obama was going to wear at the Inaugural ball!

: Anonymous

Week after week, the readers fail to see your own analysis on an issue. You are merely repeating what president Obama said in his speech. As a columnist you are supposed to observe and actually asses the policies that are being proposed. Instead you are repeating what people already know. It is true that you are not only gullible but also a bit naive when it comes to American politics. It is a game of the big boys and one needs to pay much more attention as to what is happening before penning down rambling thoughts.

: sadat





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