Political speeches of substance are rare enough in these days of soundbites. Barack Obamas inaugural speech,thus,is a rarity: an attempt from a thinking politician to convey deep ideas with clarity,to speak truthfully to a watching world and a hopeful electorate. Anything that raises the standard of political discussion anywhere in the world is something that this newspaper applauds,and President Obamas first effort certainly seems to act in that direction.
For days beforehand,we were told by those connected to the Obama team that the speech would stress renewal and responsibility. These are both important themes. Responsibility,in the sense of holding oneself accountable,is something that has not been seen much of in Washington recently; and responsibility,in the sense of leadership and the power of example,is something that many across the world will be glad to see the United States take up again. But the love of change and the desire for renewal must not be allowed to translate into insufficiently thought-out attempts to overturn carefully crafted consensuses.
The last Democratic president to take the oath of office too spoke of renewal the ceremony itself,a freshly inaugurated President Clinton said in January 1993,was part of the mystery of American renewal,when in winter the country turned to face its spring. And the errors and mis-steps of Clintons first term,born of an attempt to alter too much too fast,lie the lessons that Obama would do well to learn particularly in foreign policy. Clinton had the time to recover from those disasters,Obama will not. As he himself points out,he takes the oath amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. This is not a time at which he can afford to send out over-idealistic,under-experienced diplomats on tours that are essentially learning experiences David Milibands recent,disastrous trip here should have underlined that fact. That sort of renewal is renewal without responsibility,change we cant afford.