Observations on Obama’s Inaugural Address

As a “foreign” observer I was struck by two things in the inaugural address:

First, the direct repudiation of the former President and VicePresident to their faces  on the shortfall of “ends justifies the means” arguments regarding dispensing with rule of law in wartime(read “torture” in Iraq, Quantanamo Bay, Iraq’a Abu Ghraib, Rendition flights, etc) and in exceptional circumstances (read warrantless wiretapping and a Patriot Act that smacks of McCarthyism’s worst double entendres). This was an in-your-face challenge to the worst excesses of the immediately preceeding administration.

The second point was the the almost open chastisement of the nation’s political, financial, and business elites for falling so short of responsibility and service to the country. Nothing speaks more tellingly of this deficiency than the fact that the first tranche of the $700 Billion bailout was treated as recompense to the finacial elites for having gotten tripped up in their own excess – e.g Treasury’s okaying $450Million of bonuses to nationalized AIG staff for this year, use of bailout money by banks to help finance opportunistic takeovers and buyouts instead of used to reduce toxic assets and get the banking system working again. And as for accountability and transparency of the use of the bailout funds – shame on the Bush Administration, Henry Paulson, and their legal/financial lobbyists/elites who engaged in an  end game of political  and financial cronyism.

Up to this point now President Obama has been discrete and deferential in his treatment of the various elites who have gotten the country in this economic, political and social mess. With this speech I think President Obama signalled a fast approaching end to his patience with these elites of freeloaders, games players and, in essence, “second class”  citizens. There was anger in Obama’s words. The anger was that the ordinary Americans would have to pick up the pieces of largely self inflicted wounds plaguing America – the crises confronting the US are largely due to the fact that great numbers of US elites in business, legal, and political lobbying  but especially finance have become second class citizens because they have abandoned fiduciary trust,  a sense of responsibility beyond rampant greed, and paying their fair share including taxes back to the country that has provided them with so much opportunity.

Maybe I am reading in my own scorn to Obama’s words. However if you look at the comments at the NYTimes to the Presidential Purpose you will see an even shorter fuse among the vox populi.