Snippets from Barack Obama’s ‘malaise’ and ‘morning in America’ speech

Reading today Obama's Inaugural Address, it occurred to me that the Reagan Revolution was nothing but a caesura into which America's New Right could play out the farce of a triumphant Americanism. When considered today, Reagan's Morning in America spectacle was but a billboard on the road of national decline. I thought of this because the new President greeted the world by telling it that the crisis of the moment is very real:

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.

The crisis refers to more than just the evident institutional decay. Obama also found the cultural reflection of the crisis:

Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.

Yet America is not hopeless. The country, it seems, can find a new beginning in the decline of the old. The malaise which so many sense is not America's collective fate:

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

But prosperity and freedom do not compose an indestructible inheritance. Thus:

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

Surely Jimmy Carter, who delivered his infamous malaise speech nearly 30 years ago, felt vindicated by President Obama's call to restrained and responsible action, to unity and by a historical moment which seemingly repudiates the Reagan Era. Obama seemingly preached a return to the austere pragmatism Carter advocated and practiced.

But a gotcha lurks within all of this Carter back-patting: Jimmy Carter's Presidency deserved to fail. I say this because the Carter administration made its destiny by being cut from the same rotten tree that gave the world the Reagan Revolution. Carter neither abandoned America's empire, the militarism that comes with an empire nor could he provide a credible solution to the stagflation crisis which marked the era. He brought Paul Volker to the Federal Reserve, provoked the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, bungled the American response to the Nicaraguan and Iranian revolutions and gave the world his Carter Doctrine. Does Carter's fate — a one-term Presidency and dishonor at home — await Barack Obama because his administration will also practice a soft version of the American way? I suspect we shall soon know whether President Obama has the mettle to lead the country away from empire, militarism and misregulated finance capitalism. If he were to achieve these goals, which are not his stated goals, I believe posterity would favorably judge his tenure. These, after all, would comprise any responsible approach to America's crises.

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