Newly minted President Barack Obama is a great speaker. Whether his subject is race, responsibility or the economy, he makes his case eloquently and lyrically. His inaugural address was no exception, though there seems a general agreement that it was not the best speech he’s ever given. Personally, I’m grateful for that. If Obama had already given his best speech, we’d have nothing to look forward to over the next four years.
As for the content of the address, there were some bold formulations and even bolder promises. Some good, some better, some not so good.
“… [We will] wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.” Part of this declaration is about making medical records available electronically across networks and across the country. The notion, and it is a good one, is that everyone involved in a patient’s health care, from the patient to his doctor, to the hospital and insurance company to the pharmacist, should be able to access the medical records and information they need. And Obama is right, as long as the electronic records can be made secure (no small “if”), that such a system would raise the quality of health care.
Lowering the cost of health care is another matter altogether. It is doubtful that better technology is the cure, when so many of the system’s current inefficiencies have to do with government bureaucracy and an unwillingness to change the rules. Best of luck to Obama fulfilling that bold promise.
“We will restore science to its rightful place.” If this is a reference to cleaning up the politics and bureaucracy at the Food and Drug Administration so that new drugs can be tested, approved and brought to market in a timely manner — wonderful. If Obama is committing his administration to supporting greater spending for scientific research, then the question I have is “Show me the money.” Will such funds be coming from the federal mint, which will only increase the deficit our great-grandchildren are certain to be paying for? Or will some other government spending be cut to offset the expenditure?
And speaking of government, Obama said this: “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” Certainly, this is a nice post-partisan formulation, but what about specifics. What does it mean to say the government is “working?” Obama’s stated definition is that government should be helping people find good jobs, health care and “dignified” retirement. Really? I thought the federal government was supposed to secure and defend the homeland and keep public order. Washington is supposed to find me a job? Ensure my retirement? Aren’t these things I’m supposed to do myself?
On foreign policy, Obama sounded a bit like John McCain when he declared “for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you … we will defeat you.” Throughout the campaign, Obama sounded quite different. He never once referred to the war in Iraq in such terms. He only spoke of ending the war never winning it. And even in the inaugural he stuck to campaign mode when he stated that we “will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people.”
Pardon me, but we can only leave Iraq to its people today because we defeated a tyrant there — Saddam Hussein. If Iraq is not an example of defeating our enemies, who is the enemy? If we “defeat” Osama bin Laden are we done? And Obama was noticeably silent about Israel’s recent clash with Hamas. Hamas is a terror organization, terrorizing Israelis and Palestinians. They are armed by Iran, but Obama wants to negotiate with the government in Tehran. Is it only the bombers who are the problem? Are those who arm, support and encourage them, to be left alone?
Obama hit one serious false note when he said “we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders.” This nation poured millions into Tsunami relief and the Bush administration lead an unprecedented effort to reduce the plague of AIDS on the continent of Africa. To assert that Americans or our government are indifferent to the suffering of those beyond our shores is simply wrong and Obama should be sorry he said it.
In the coming days, weeks and years, we will be able to refer back to Obama’s inaugural to see if his were a series of empty promises or a blueprint of goals achieved. For now, best of luck, 44.
(Abby Wisse Schachter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)