George Packer on the inauguration speech:
There were echoes of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, but President Obama uttered no words today that will be quoted in a hundred years. He has never been a real stem-winder or a coiner of unforgettable phrases; what he's always been is a great explainer, who pays the rest of us the highest compliment—the appeal to reason. Today he explained why Americans need to grow up, and the tone and vision of his speech—sober, realistic, clear-minded, undaunted—were absolutely equal to the occasion and the times, down to his requisite scriptural passage: "The time has come to set aside childish things."
He delivered something better than rhetorical excitement—he spoke the truth, which makes its own history and carries its own poetry.
PRESIDENT Obama did not offer his patented poetry in his Inaugural Address. He did not add to his cache of quotations in Bartlett's. He did not recreate J.F.K.'s inaugural, or Lincoln's second, or F.D.R.'s first. The great orator was mainly at his best when taking shots at Bush and Cheney, who, in black hat and wheelchair, looked like the misbegotten spawn of the evil Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life" and the Wicked Witch of the West.
Such was the judgment of many Washington drama critics. But there's a reason that this speech was austere, not pretty. Form followed content. Obama wasn't just rebuking the outgoing administration. He was delicately but unmistakably calling out the rest of us who went along for the ride as America swerved into the dangerous place we find ourselves now.
Feckless as it was for Bush to ask Americans to go shopping after 9/11, we all too enthusiastically followed his lead, whether we were wealthy, working-class or in between. We spent a decade feasting on easy money, don't-pay-as-you-go consumerism and a metastasizing celebrity culture. We did so while a supposedly cost-free, off-the-books war, usually out of sight and out of mind, helped break the bank along with our nation's spirit and reputation.
We can't keep blaming 43 for everything, especially now that we don't have him to kick around anymore. On Tuesday the new president pointedly widened his indictment beyond the sins of his predecessor. He spoke of those at the economic pinnacle who embraced greed and irresponsibility as well as the rest of us who collaborated in our "collective failure to make hard choices." He branded as sub-American those who "prefer leisure over work or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame." And he wasn't just asking Paris Hilton "to set aside childish things." As Linda Hirshman astutely pointed out on The New Republic's Web site, even Obama's opening salutation — "My fellow citizens," not "fellow Americans" — invoked the civic responsibilities we've misplaced en masse.
The austerity of Obama's Inaugural Address seemed a tonal corrective to the glitz and the glut. The speech was, as my friend Jack Viertel, a theater producer, put it, "stoic, stern, crafted in slabs of granite, a slimmed-down sinewy thing entirely evolved away from the kind of Pre-Raphaelite style of his earlier oration." Some of the same critics who once accused Obama of sounding too much like a wimpy purveyor of Kumbaya now faulted him for not rebooting those golden oldies of the campaign trail as he took his oath. But he is no longer campaigning, and the moment for stadium cheers has passed.
Last weekend, Bob Woodward wrote an article for The Washington Post listing all the lessons the new president can learn from his predecessor's many blunders. But what have we learned from our huge mistakes during the Bush years? While it's become a Beltway cliché that America's new young president has yet to be tested, it is past time for us to realize that our own test is also about to begin.
What the hell have they been doing for the last 6+ years?
President Obama's plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials -- barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees -- discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.
Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is "scattered throughout the executive branch," a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.
Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration's focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.
Soon after the November election, al-Qaeda's No. 2 leader took stock of America's new president-elect and dismissed him with an insulting epithet. "A house Negro," Ayman al-Zawahiri said.
That was just a warm-up. In the weeks since, the terrorist group has unleashed a stream of verbal tirades against Barack Obama, each more venomous than the last. Obama has been called a "hypocrite," a "killer" of innocents, an "enemy of Muslims." He was even blamed for the Israeli military assault on Gaza, which began and ended before he took office.
"He kills your brothers and sisters in Gaza mercilessly and without affection," an al-Qaeda spokesman declared in a grainy Internet video this month.
The torrent of hateful words is part of what terrorism experts now believe is a deliberate, even desperate, propaganda campaign against a president who appears to have gotten under al-Qaeda's skin. The departure of George W. Bush deprived al-Qaeda of a polarizing American leader who reliably drove recruits and donations to the terrorist group.
With Obama, al-Qaeda faces an entirely new challenge, experts say: a U.S. president who campaigned to end the Iraq war and to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and who polls show is well liked throughout the Muslim world.
If you haven't read the short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" do yourself a favor and read it ASAP. It's just four pages, but it packs a punch. I just found out about it via this DKos entry (that is also worth reading) that draws parallels between the story and Guantanamo Bay.
(not everyone's happy though: there's a concern Mitchell will be "even-handed," rather than reflexively supportive of Israel. How politicians can say shit like that and not get howled off the stage is beyond me.)