It was an ‘inauguration’ as spectacular as it was historic – Barack Hussein Obama taking oath as the first African-American President of the US on January 20. Media went on an overdrive to air the ceremony live from Capitol Hill, with all news channels in India beaming the same images simultaneously for nearly two hours.
All other news came to a standstill as the news channels – English as well as Hindi – let the live telecast continue, mercifully uninterrupted by unnecessary commentaries.
Obama’s speech after taking oath as the 44th President of the US was eagerly awaited and each word was weighed for all they were worth.
As the ceremony got over, channels began speaking to foreign policy experts, corporate czars, opinion leaders about the implications of Obama’s speech. A quick round of channel surfing brought up BBC World, which had a correspondent reporting from Obama’s father’s village in Kenya. The village, which doesn’t have electricity, had specially hired generator sets to watch the oath taking ceremony on a huge TV screen.
In his 21-minute speech, delivered extempore without looking at any notes, Obama went back to the history and the “patchwork heritage of America”, which he said was a strength. “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers,” he added.
He admitted that times were tough and challenges many – recession, job cuts, businesses shutting down, global terrorism, etc. “Every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms,” he said in his speech.
He continued, “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today, I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.”
He spoke about fiscal corrections and making some unpleasant choices, basically to be prepared to work hard and long.
But more important was his world vision, wherein he said, “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”
“To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” he added.
Obama’s words and his every action would be closely scrutinised in the coming weeks and months. What implications his policies would have for India, would also be known in time.
Obama fumbled twice while taking the oath – once at the beginning itself when he said “I, Barak Hussein Obama, do swear…” and second, when he paused for a moment before Chief Justice John Roberts Jr, who was delivering the oath, repeated the words and prompted “faithfully”.
We sincerely hope that Obama, the President, doesn’t fumble at the Oval Office and that he lives up to his name, which means ‘one who is blessed’ in Swahili.