Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Minding the Gaps

Norm Geras's excellent commentary on Obama's inauguration speech quotes the new president:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation...
Amen to that. Wasn't yesterday itself a most striking testimony to this greatness? A world never finished with mouthing off about the US, its shortcomings and its misdemeanours, couldn't take its eyes off what was happening there: this day of achievement, this huge democratic assembly symbolizing, renewing and reclaiming a tradition of democracy strengthened by its own coming together. By that very attention the world paid tribute to what it knows America to be.
I am wary of knows; I would place it no higher than wants, hopes, or expects. I share in those hopes and expectations for this country, and I also share in the mouthing off when they outshine the reality. Even in the light of our best days -- and yesterday was surely among those -- we cannot allow ourselves to forget that we are exactly and only as good as the sum of our deeds, and hence Obama continued the remark:
... we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.
We should admire our ideals -- indeed, "we will not apologize for our way of life" -- but this requires clear-eyed attention to the gaps between the ideals and the reality.

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