Obama Inaugural Address references Pursuit of Happiness, leaves out Life and Liberty.

WASHINGTON DC – I did not watch the Inauguration. I have never watched one, as I have always been at work while it was happening. But I particularly did not watch this one as I prefer to read the text.

As I said in one particularly contentious email exchange with a sibling, I don’t really care what Obama says. I am waiting to see what he does. Words matter to me, and how they are employed matter a great deal. In this hyper-stimulated media-rife world political speeches have a roller-coaster aspect. And I mean that quite seriously and literally. A given speech will take someone High, then Low, then all around, surprise you with some unexpected turns, possibly frighten you, then stop. The lasting impact is nil. You walk off and go get a hotdog or a coke, and look for the next ride. The ride is essentially forgotten by the time you leave the park. But, if asked, you will tell everyone it was a really good ride.

My reading of President Obama’s Inaugural Address leaves me comparing roller coasters. My first real roller coaster ride was The Matterhorn at Disney Land. It was really cool. I was 15. Here in Texas, at Six Flags, I’ve ridden the Judge Roy Scream, the Big Bend (since dismantled), the Shockwave and some other one that I’ve forgotten the name of.

Each of these was OK, but I really remember my first one. The rest, well, *yawn*. I’ve ridden them; I probably won’t ride another one. It’s the line, the amount of time you wait for the payoff, which is over as soon as you get on.

I liked Obama’s first speech, you know, the one at the Democratic Convention a little over four years ago. It was good, it was different. Of course, he had no skin in the game, nothing to lose. He also was not overtly campaigning at the time.

His acceptance speech at the most recent convention left me cold. Kind of like riding the Mini-mine train at Six Flags. The one anyone can ride. The boring one.

Speeches are like that. However, I found some interesting things in this most recent public performance by our new President:

“My fellow citizens:”

– Interesting. A lot has been made about Obama and his World Citizenship leanings. I wonder why he picked citizens over Americans?

“We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” (Italics mine.)

– I am assuming the reference here is to the Declaration of Independence. You know, the “… life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” part. Interestingly, he left out Life and Liberty. Why? Are these passé values? Note also the qualifier “… full measure …” It’s no longer the pursuit of happiness, but the pursuit of your fair share, your due portion of happiness.

“Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.”

I have wondered for some time now if Capitalism and Democracy are really fated to go hand in hand. We think of them as inseparable – but unbridled capitalism certainly leads to abuse. Meanwhile, the concept of investment has fundamentally gone awry as people look for the quick buck. We now have something I’ve heard called Speculative Capitalism.

Pope Benedict XVI noted that “[The] lowering of the objectives of global finance to the very short term … becomes dangerous for everyone, even for those who benefit when the markets perform well.” You may ask “what does the Pope know about finance?” A fair question. But Catholic social doctrine decries mutual exploitation. In Speculative Capitalism, winners gain at the expense of losers.

Warren Buffet put it like this, “…according the nameinvestors to institutions that trade actively is like calling someone who repeatedly engages in one-night stands a romantic.” Angelo Matera, writing in the National Catholic Register notes that, “Ironically, like ‘safe sex’, safe speculation has proved to be an illusion.”

I will be very interested to see how President Obama addresses this complex problem. His speech would indicate he has the right concepts in mind.

“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”

– “…tolerance and curiosity…” have been a quiet force of progress throughout our history? This is a very odd statement. I wonder if a “…new era of responsibility…” and tolerance and curiosity are really compatible. Tolerance of what? Curiosity about what? Tolerance and curiosity, change and choice, these are words that do not stand alone, but which have been accorded a positive connotation while devoid of context. And for some reason, people simply turn off their brains when they hear these words. He leaves out Life and Liberty, and includes Tolerance and Curiosity.

“So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

‘Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).'”

I remain fascinated by President Obama’s common practice of not naming historical figures but merely making oblique reference. This strikes me as calculated, but I cannot fathom his reasons. He alluded to Martin Luther King in his nomination acceptance speech, and here to George Washington, yet, he will not name them.

I wish the best for President Obama. He is my President, and he enters into office with the highest level of unrealistic expectations from his constituency than any President in history. When he proves out to be human, I hope his fans can forgive him.


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