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Obama’s Second Inauguration: Big Money but No Big Lines

 

There were no memorable lines in President Obama’s second inaugural address. Certainly nothing like Franklin Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” which was in his first inaugural, or like John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country.”

But there was plenty he said that was troubling.

The problem mostly wasn’t what he said. It was how he said it, and what he left unsaid.

Take climate change.

The president acknowledged the problem, saying: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

So far so good, but then he didn’t talk about any serious steps to do that, such as shutting down coal-fired generating plants and putting a stop to plans to import dirty, massively polluting and inefficient oil from Canadian and US tar-sands deposits. Instead he focussed on economic opportunities to be had if the US would start investing seriously in new energy technology. He did not take this unique opportunity to tell Americans honestly what the risks of inaction are: The extinction of half the species on the earth, including primary food sources that keep billions of us alive, and the risk of runaway warming that could raise the oceans by 16 to 60 feet. Instead he focussed parochially on storms and droughts and forest fires getting worse. This was a wasted leadership moment if there ever was one.

When JFK made his one inaugural address, the Cold War was at its height. He didn’t fudge the moment, and instead let Americans and the world know the gravity of the threat of mutual global nuclear annihilation by describing the situation thusly as “both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war.”

Three inaugurals, two memorable, one not so much...Three inaugurals, two memorable, one not so much...

 

President Obama had the chance to lay the current even worse crisis out with equal clarity. He blew it, instead portraying the climate change crisis as simply an opportunity for the US to gain or lose the leadership in a new technological marketplace.

On education, he also narrowly focussed on schools as job training centers, instead of as transmitters of culture, saying: “...a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.”

What about training our artists, dancers, poets, historians, writers, musicians and philosophers? Today, in school district after school district, art and music teachers, librarians and others are being laid off by financially struggling school districts. Where is the president’s leadership in trying to preserve real education in America?

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