Sorry. I had a lot of time on that bus full of comedians. Another commenter asks:
Can you truly speak for 1.8 million people?
Point taken, and no, I don't think anyone truly can. But trying to interpret mass sentiment is a big part of the game of politics (and political coverage). Hard to avoid. Meanwhile, Erica's response, and her sharing of her favorite speech section, reminds me that I meant to share something I liked about one of the sections I criticized:
Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, 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.
I like this section it because it's provocative. It's clearly a slap at Bush. But more broadly it's an indictment of a style of gaining power and leading people that relies upon dishonesty, unfair play, manipulation, close-mindedness, and cronyism. What's provocative is this: all that dishonesty and unfair play and cronyism stuff works. Proof is easy to find in D.C., but it's also everywhere one looks, and common enough to be a standard theme in the stories that entertain us. The night before the inaugural I fell asleep watching an episode of Mad Men with a friend. On this episode, one of the main characters, a secretary, was distraught at the way that hard work, fair play, and loyalty wasn't enough in her office. The people who succeeded there played a different game, a rougher game, a game that is also old—even if not true in the sense of the word that Obama employs.
We now have an opportunity to see, on a huge stage, two theories of leadership tested one after the other. The Bush theory, which is that nothing is true except what's politically useful at a given moment. (Ironic for a guy who branded himself as an opponent of moral relativism.) And the Obama theory, which is that a person can actually accomplish great things, and be a great and tough leader, while at the same time not being an awful human being.
In the long view, the Obama theory has only rarely been true. (Nice guys finish last, etc.) And it certainly hasn't been true in the short view. (Kerry, Gore, & Co.) But it's a provocative idea, a compelling notion, a sea change in sentiment at the top: the man who leads us now aspires to the good.
We'll see how far that gets him—and us. But, you know, it's worked out pretty well so far.