Some have observed that President Obama’s Inaugural Address didn’t meet his high standards for powerful speeches. Yet other have noted that Obama wanted to stress the need to get serious about the problems facing our nation. It was time to get to work.
Joe Klein points out that Obama has continued with this tone during his first week in office.
Just as he could have opted for the adrenaline rush of grand rhetoric in his Inaugural Address but didn’t, he could have turned any of the profoundly serious actions of his first week into a whiz-bang photo opportunity. He could have planted solar panels and a wind turbine on the White House roof or blasted the Bush Administration as he signed an Executive Order banning torture or lacerated the bankers who got us into the economic mess. But that’s not his style, apparently. He has reversed the tactical, win-the-news-cycle sensibility of recent presidencies. During his first week in office, at least, he opted for strategy and substance over showbiz.
Which is not to say there weren’t symbolic gestures. But the groups Obama lavished his attention on were an unlikely bunch: diplomats, Muslims and Republicans. The gestures involved a geographic humility that was a clean break from the presidential past: he went to the State Department, to the Capitol, and appeared on the Al Arabiya television network before granting an interview to any of the American channels. In each case, the gesture was made more for its long-term effect than its short-term bang.
The President visited the State Department on his second full day in office to send a message: diplomacy will now take precedence over military force in U.S. foreign policy — and his Administration’s will be a diplomacy of constant, persistent attention to the world’s problem areas rather than slapdash summitry. The occasion for Obama’s visit was the announcement of two special envoys, Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell, both of whom represent a silent reproach to the Bush Administration. Holbrooke will have the near impossible task of untangling the mess in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a problem exacerbated by recent American inattention to detail in the area. (The deterioration toward chaos in Pakistan, especially, surprised some of the President’s closest aides.)
There is much that needs to be done, and fixing these problems will take time. I suspect that the American people will be patient as Obama demonstrates a willingness to attack these problems in a serious, bi-partisan manner.