Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"He even mentioned non-believers in his speech..."

That was the first thing my husband reported to me when I arrived home yesterday.

As excited as I am about finally having Obama as president, I wasn't quite on the bandwagon of celebrating the inauguration. All that controversy over Rick Warren (and whether we should be having a prayer at all) kind of put me off the whole thing. Basically it's because I don't want to be the wet blanket who complains about a symbolic gesture when more important things are at stake, yet, at the same time, I didn't feel like watching the piety show. We have to defer to the in-group/loyalty value (as we were discussing on MSP) -- and to get any recognition at all for the out-group, it's important to reassure the in-group (Christians) that this isn't about displacing them as the true Americans. Calling it a necessary evil is perhaps a bit strong -- it's a necessary annoyance. So I figured I'd just read the Humanist Symposium Carnival version, and leave it at that.

Then I started getting excited, reading about it in the Swiss paper on my way home from work:

That makes two days in a row that Obama has been the cover story (not to mention that he was in the news all the time during the election season). As far as I can make out from my (extremely rudimentary, but improving) German, for the most part the Swiss like Obama, and they're very impressed that the U.S.A. has elected its first black president.

It may serve as something of a positive example. Here's the even-more-familiar image that I see staring at me around practically every corner wherever I go:

I attempted to photograph this thing myself, but this other person was a far more skilled photographer

I know, I know, I chose to move here where I'll be a "foreign guest worker" until retirement, dependent on the good will of my hosts. I don't really have a cause to complain since I knew what I was getting into. Still, it puts those people who were whining about feeling harassed by a few atheist ads on buses into perspective as the value of inclusiveness/expansiveness chips away at the value of in-group loyalty/privilege.

Now, probably some of you are probably itching to point out that the Swiss ad's crypto-symbolism is about the danger of dark people (like Barack Obama), not about white people like me and my husband. But the thing is I suspect that people who would be swayed by this ad probably have some opinions about the various nationalities of foreign white people as well. And apparently it's a mainstream position to believe that those rotten (dark?) foreigners are out to, well, peck Switzerland to death.


Anyway, back to President Obama's message of hope, encouraging us all to take on the challenges that we're facing. I watched it, and I thought it was fantastic! He said so many things that absolutely needed to be said. Apparently, a CNN commentator complained that it didn't have a strong phrase like "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" -- and it's true that Obama's key points were couched in long sentences or phrased as negatives. But I think Obama did it on purpose so that people would listen to the whole speech instead of reducing it to a catch phrase. He's already got "Yes, we can!" -- he doesn't need another one. I want to see the Christians and other believers on board for these noble goals, so I hesitate to begrudge them a prayer if it's important to them.

And, of course I appreciated that he explicitly included non-believers as Americans. Actually, it was clever that he threw in the thing about other languages right afterwards -- all the people who might have been saying "What??? I hope he's not talking about Spanish..." were too busy being distracted by "OMG!!! He said non-believers!" ;^)

Here's to inclusivity!!!


C. L. Hanson said...

p.s. I really like this song There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama. Everybody wants to claim him. And (since he actually has Irish ancestry), the singers may be right in claiming that he's as Irish as was JFK....

Scot said...

The inclusion of non-believers caught my ear too. A president that sees non-believers as part of the whole (and gay Americans too, in his acceptance) is a step in the right direction for me.

Rick Warren, yeah... Maybe it was just that his performance was colored by the previous statements I've heard from him, but I don't think he came off too well. You should take a listen. It was just odd (e.g. listen to how he refers to the Obama children).

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately this is a regular campaigning and scare tactic of the SVP (Swiss People's Party). This isn't the last time you'll see such xenophobic nonsense over here.

A similar campaign in 2007 depicted a black sheep being booted out of a Switzerland populated only by white sheep.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Scot!!!

So true. Including non-believers as Americans (as well as explicitly mentioning Hindus, Muslims, and people who speak other languages) is a huge step forward. And he's also made direct statements inclusive of gays and lesbians, even if it wasn't in this particular speech (though apparently he added a prayer invitation for a gay-friendly pastor, or some other LGBT inclusive move).

Hey Bob!!!

I know -- that ad with the black/white sheep was a big news item right at the time when we were deciding whether we wanted to move to Switzerland!! That's why I say that I knew what I was getting into when I made the decision.

OTOH, when we came here for our recruitment visit, I saw stickers on the campus responding to that very ad -- showing a black sheep and a white sheep with a love heart over them. As upsetting as it is to walk past this evil foreign crows message every day, I think it would be taking exactly the wrong message if I were to paint all Swiss with the same brush and imagine that there's something uniquely wrong with this people (as opposed to the standard ethnic prejudice everywhere that we all need to work to combat).

B. Spinoza said...

>freipass für alle? Nein

translates to a free pass for all? No

is that correct?

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey B. Spinoza!!!

That's what I think, but -- as I said -- my German is kinda rudimentary...

Christopher Smith said...

Good catch on the 'non-believers' reference. I hadn't noticed that.

Varina said...

Well, I don't know about the Swiss Germans, but if L'Hebdo is any indication the Swiss French love him. Also, what is with that ad with the crows? What are they even talking about, hasn't the Schengen agreement long ago passed? I also wonder if this is the same measure, that in this part of the country I see all the ads talking about joining with others and growing together (they show two fruit trees being grafted together and bearing more fruit).

Anonymous said...

I share your hesitancy to celebrate. I am pretty sure my hope organ is malfunctioning. That said, I'm really glad that Obama was elected and I look forward to being able to read the news without freaking out more often.

Eugene said...

I think Jon Stewart is onto something here.

Miguel said...

I'm fascinated by how fascinated people overseas are with Obama. Never seen anything like it before and I doubt I ever will again. I think his speech was more of a call for all to come together and get down to business, which carried a way different tone than did his election night speech--much more celebratory and in a way included/thanked everyone who made it happen.

sam-i-am said...

That's too funny -- I heard the part about non-believers, but missed the part about other languages.

As for Jon Stewart, I definitely agree with: "It's like, why is cheese delicious on italian food, but when you melt it on Chinese food it's disgusting." The whole package matters.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Chris!!!

Well, I could hardly miss it. After all of the controversy over the Rick warren prayer, all of non-believer space was listening for any kind of bone to be thrown our way... ;^)

Hey Sabayon!!!

Actually, I don't even know what the measures are that all these various ads are talking about. I should note down the names and look them up on the Internet so I have a better idea what's going on. I'm curious about that one with the two guys in suits bashing railroad tracks with hammers. What is that all about...?

Hey Kim!!!

Yeah, I know what you mean. Well, we'll see what happens...

Hey Eugene!!!

The most irritating thing is that comedy central uses some sort of video format that doesn't work on my computer! So I watch all the Daily Show clips when people post them to YouTube, but I can't get them from the real site on a regular basis. It's too bad, too, since I read how those guys were saying how they were looking forward to making jokes about Obama ("His father was a goat-herder!"). I'd be curious to see his montage of clips comparing this to stuff Bush said.

Hey Miguel!!!


Hey Sam-I-Am!!!

Fabulous!!! Okay, now I really have to try to see that clip. Maybe it will work on my kids' computer...

C. L. Hanson said...

p.s. I especially liked the foreign policy part, about how security isn't all about saber-rattling and being steely enough to carry through on threats of violence. A big part of it is gaining people's trust and esteem by playing fair. A little like I said in be the good guys.

C. L. Hanson said...

O.K., I just watched the Jon Stewart clip -- that it hilarious!!! I loved the part where Jon read the Obama quote in a Bush voice and it made the other guy want to throw a shoe at him! lol.

But, seriously, I'd be surprised if they didn't agree on some basic points like freedom...

The Sinister Porpoise said...

I'm waiting for the media meltdown when many news outlets figure out that that the new president is Barack Obama, not Jesus Christ or another suitable messiah.

I can't stand the press coverage of the event in the U.S., and for some bizarre reason, he's not popular with people in Pennsylvania's many small towns. Might have something to do with him pegging all the inhabitants of such communities as ignorant, unemployed red necks.

The big cities can have Barack.

Anonymous said...

I, too, was thrilled with his mention of 'non-believers'. I was like "Did he really just say that?!"

Some fundies I know have their panties in a bunch over that.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sinister Porpoise!!!

As far as I'm concerned, GWB's "Hey, I'm as dumb as you!" populism was a lot more insulting to his constituents across the board -- country as well as city folks. Especially since it includes the implication that all the policy discussion should be left to the expert advisers since ordinary joes like you and me can't handle it.

Go ahead and read Obama's books -- you'll see that he explains his ideas in a straight-forward manner, not talking down to people.

Hey Anonymous!!!

Yeah, it was a great step, wasn't it?

The Sinister Porpoise said...

I can appreciate his writing and still believe his ideas are bad. The way to get out of an economic recession is doing exactly the opposite of what he's proposed so far. There's a reason why the economy is continuing to slump. (Gun sales in the U.S. being one strangely notable exception. They have increased since the November elections)

Obama won because he is black. I'm not even sure anyone fully understood the issues at stake.

And I didn't get that from the Bush administration -- what became clear was a dangerous "God is on my side" approach, where wrongdoing on the part of the president was impossible.

At least the great thing is we have another four years for both parties to find a candidate that can inspire more than half of the American people.

Obama is a great public speaker. I think he lost out on his true calling by deciding to become a politician. I dislike the man intensely, but I want to see what he'll actually do. The current economic conditions are worsening because of fears over what he might do.

I would have less of a problem with him if his apology for the statement was actually apologetic.
Even Hilary Clinton didn't appropriately denounce him for it.

There's no mandate for change here either, much as it has been in the past elections, nearly 50% of the population did not choose him to be president.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sinister Porpoise!!!

I think I get which quote you're talking about. As I recall, the point was that there's an area that had good jobs that left, and they'd heard a lot of hot air and no follow-through. Naturally, they turned to God for hope. Is that false? Is it insulting?

Let's be frank. When I first heard people talking about Jr. senator Obama as a presidential contender, I, too, thought, "Ahh, it's just because he's black." Until I read his books and saw what he was really made of. Then I was sorry I'd dismissed him, the way some people make assumptions about, say, female engineers and how they might have gotten hired, etc.

And, I hope you won't find this rude or presumptuous, but I've been wondering about this all day, since your earlier comment: do you, Lara, support GLBT rights? I do. And I don't have to -- I could easily take my straight, white, monogamously-married family and disappear in to some wholly-respectable congregation if I wanted to...

littlemissattitude said...

RE: the complaints about there being no "strong phrase" in the speech...

What isn't strong about "...we have chosen hope over fear; unity of purpose over conflict and discord."

And what isn't strong about "We will restore science to its rightful place..." (I literally cheered out loud when I heard this one during the speech).

Oh, and one of my favorites: "...we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."

So, okay, maybe none of these is short enough for a second-and-a-half sound bite. But these are strong sentiments, strongly delivered and easily recalled, at a time when they are essential.

I was very impressed by how much of President Obama's speech seemed to directly cut at the policies of the Bush years (all three of the statements I quoted do this, I think), appeared not only to stick the knife in, but also twist it enough to really hurt...and get the point across that he intends for things to change.

I thought it was interesting that I felt a clear sense of physical relief when 12 noon EST passed and Obama became president (that happens then, even if the oath hasn't been taken yet) and the Bush/Cheney regime were finally out of power.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Ima!!!

True, there were some very strong and bold statements, even though the speech couldn't be reduced to a slogan or catch-phrase.

Anonymous said...

Oddly, the crow poster is nowhere to be seen round here. We had the black-and-white sheep one blanketing the place a couple years back. The SVP is just one of those things that come with the territory for me. You know, like Republicans.

I love President Obama with an unabashed love. My cynicism is on life support.

- wry

Anonymous said...

PS -- Mr C and I fully stopped cold and GAPED at each other when the word "non-believers" was uttered by President O-bama. Could. not. believe. it.

Warren came off like a dumbass. And the whole thing had way too much religion for me. But still, the 'non-believers' being included even a wee bit is like water in the desert.

- wry

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Wry!!!

I know, I feel the same way.

That's interesting that you don't have the crow ad in your area. The Zürich Hauptbahnhof is plastered with them -- I can't even tell you how many copies of that ad are in there.