Hard Choices and a New Age

Text - Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address - NYTimes.comWhat the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control —and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

The world has changed. Of course, it changed some time ago. Our communications systems changed, and the internet transformed society in ways we could not have imagined, and did not imagine, it would have. It made prophets out of people whose theories were both controversial and visionary — Marshall McLuhan comes to mind.This is why I don't accept arguments about "society" or "economy" or "the world" that don't recognize that the ground has shifted under our feet, that draw upon theories that were influential in the twentieth century, some of whose roots were in the nineteenth century, that ignores the contributions made by all sorts of thinkers of all ideological stripes.That the 44th President of the USA is African-American is important, revolutionary, seminal, historic. Yes. But that he is also the first president born after 1960 — the date accepted as the end of imperialism — after the change that began to change the world, after empires died and the formerly oppressed — we must not forget — were able once more to forge their own destinies for better or for worse, is equally significant. That he is the first president whose administration really appears to understand the change that has come in the world is something that is liable to change the world perhaps as profoundly as the skin he wears will do. It's possible to argue, and I'm going to, that the election of Barack Obama as an African-American marks the end of a change that began with Gandhi, continued through the struggle for self-determination and national independence throughout the European empires between 1919 and 1960, and came home to the English-language Americas with Martin Luther King. But what Obama's election also signifies is the beginning of another change — a change in society that has to do with changes in technology. The old ideas that were forced upon us by governments whose philosophies were the residue of 19th century industrialism are passing away, and a new world is beginning.But back to the speech:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.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.To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.