If you’re staying up to watch Barack Obama’s inauguration as 44th President of the United States of America, Crikey has a good guide to coverage and commentary on tv, live streaming, live blogging and twitter. Locally, Hoyden About Town is hosting a livechat. Their website also links to YouTube and audio of notable past inaugural addresses. Here’s FDR:
Obama’s inauguration may well promise republican and democratic renewal. Paradoxically, however, this year’s is the most monarchic and imperial inauguration ritual that America has ever witnessed.
I think Adrien is right to observe on a related thread here that we’ve rarely seen so much international interest in, and widespread coverage of such an event. To some degree, I think this is an artefact of the end of the Bush era. Certainly, the symbolism of Obama’s train ride tracing Lincoln’s route to Washington DC, the rhetoric of a “new declaration of independence” and even the significance of the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s speech won’t have the same resonance here as it does for American citizens.
On one hand, I think Obama’s inauguration is to be welcomed heartily (if realistically in terms of what it promises), and the pose of permanent cynicism some like to adopt rejected as a symptom of the failings of Western political systems themselves.
On the other hand, the degree of international attention, I think, obscures the degree to which Obama’s role will be the management of a superpower in decline, both economically and politically. While George W. Bush no doubt accelerated America’s decline, the fact that it will be so difficult for the new President – armed with record popularity, a strong electoral college margin and Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress – to achieve universal healthcare is telling. Healthcare for the middle class traditionally rested on employer coverage, which was in turn dependent on America’s comparative economic dominance. Though the story is more complex than this, the withering away of this hegemony is both cause of and metaphor for many of the travails Obama was elected to address.
In foreign policy too, Obama’s options are probably more limited than they appear. I think we’ll see that in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the continuity signalled by the renomination of Robert Gates as Defence Secretary and a panoply of other Republicans to his national security team is significant.
We might do well to remember all this, and whether or not we’re personal fans of the President of Our Great and Powerful Friend, that looking to America to salve all the world’s ills hasn’t exactly been working so well recently. Though Obama will undoubtedly be a much better President than his predecessor, his own commitment to multilateralism (such as it is) might be better served if we in Australia were to rely more on our own resources, even if our politics lacks pageantry and soaring rhetoric.
Update: New post here with links to the speech and commentary on some interesting but probably overlooked angles.