Of course, those would have been enough for a good start. I was duly inspired by President Obama's call for a new spirit of purpose and idealism, evoking history and mission, duty and vision. Indeed, I hope the speech moved all Americans, along with people around the world - even those whose guarded respect is as-yet tinged with suspicion. Perhaps even grudging doubters will be swayed toward firmer feelings of appreciation, over the coming years, not only by words, or the skill and character of the Obama team, but also by events. By the historical validation that is bestowed by great success.
And yet, I don't feel compelled to write very much about those soaring themes and sentiments, all of which will be noted by others. Instead, what I'll do - out of habit - is bring notice to a few side-glimmers and exceptional points that won't (I reckon) be mentioned by most pundits, or even historians.
For example, it struck me that President Obama repeatedly called upon us to rise up as adults from the quagmire of dogma and culture war. In order to do this, we'd have to do more than just listen to the angels of our better natures, or simply heed our high ideals. Both in the campaign and on his first day in office, he emphasized the need to rediscover arts of negotiation and problem-solving. The calm pragmatism that undergirds all those lofty principles, without which they so easily dissolve into platitudes or self-righteous rationalizations. (As, indeed, the word "freedom" was cheapened in recent years, into a mere totem for "my side.")
Other nations have known duty, honor, patriotism, self-sacrifice... and even freedom But it is the mix of those fine things with other ingredients -- with patience and craftsmanship, with both eager competition and willing cooperation, with reciprocal respect and healthy self-doubt -- that made our loftier ideals truly world-transforming. And that notion of anchoring idealism in pragmatic action is the message that I felt through my bones - deeper than through my ears - during Barack Obama's inaugural address.
It was the same message that he pushed the day before, in dedicating Martin Luther King Day to practical public service. Do you want other examples?
"To those (overseas) 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."
How simple an offer, based upon a clearcut image of cause-and-effect. Then came a sentence that both rebuked the recent past and expressed far greater confidence in us than we have seen expressed (alas) by recent leaders:
"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."
Of course you'll recognize a central theme of my book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? And especially since the dire events of 9/11, as I kept hoping (and preaching) that Americans should reject the dismal and insipid "devil's dichotomy" we were constantly offered for eight years, as fools demanded that we trade-off between two things we cannot live without.
Those two passages were certainly noted by others. Moreover, without question, President Obama had to say them, whether or not he meant quite the emphasis that I perceived.
But two other paragraphs contained - tucked within - what I feel are vital hints to Barack Obama's character and agenda. Because they are things he did not have to say. Very few of the two million people attending in Washington, or close to a billion watching around the world, will remark upon them. But I suggest that you do.
Yes, yes. Education, sustainability, health, plus the new technologies that may not only help save the nation and planet, but also kick-start the next economic boom, in much the same way that our government's internet research sparked the last one... all of that was profoundly welcome, and expected. But to put science first, ahead of all the others, and thus signaling it's "rightful place," struck me deeply. This is one lawyer who knows that good decisions cannot be based upon incantations, but must ultimately depend on actual, honest-to-God facts.
We have had enough of leaders who arrogantly believed that all you need to govern is one thing, a powerfully certain and egotistically subjective force of will.
But then, it can be argued that Obama also "had to" mention science, after all the travesties of recent years. Perhaps that, too, was no surprise. Or I may be reading too much into it. So let me reach deeper for my final clue.
"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task."
Did you see it? The word he did not have to mention? And hence, one that he chose to insert, simply because he thought it important?
It is an under-rated word, though in some ways deeply sacred, since it represents a deep and profoundly American value -- one that stands behind our greatest achievements and underpins our loftiest ambitions. Yes, all the other values that he listed in that paragraph are profound and vital. But the one that caught and briefly transfixed me is a crucial, though oft-forgotten trait that makes us at-once both wondrously childlike and yet also mature, in the best sense of the word.
Mature enough to ask that precious question (the foundation of true science) "what if I am wrong?" The question that we have learned - the hard way - leads to wisdom, justice, self-discovery, empathy, humility, and incremental progress.
Look again. It is the one word that you never heard used to describe the dismal bunch who have finally departed and who will not be missed. Even though, crossing all party lines, it once applied - and may yet again - to broadminded conservatism, as much as it does to liberals.
The new president did not have to mention it. But he did. And that one word -- tucked in among so many fine phrases -- tells us plenty. It shows that he wants not only to preside and rule. He wants to learn.
My 100 "Unusual Suggestions for America and the Obama Administration" are posted. If you find any of them unique or worthwhile, feel free to spread word. Or join the discussion. Meanwhile, here's to hope, confidence, and a renaissance.