SOCIAL VOX

My thoughts on the world around me

President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Speech

I was expecting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” rhetoric of hope and unity. I was expecting President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural speech from 1865, a strike of subtle genius and poetry in the midst of the Civil War. All the media pundits had me thinking I was about to witness the greatest speech my generation would ever hear.

When Obama finished his speech, I asked myself, “that’s it?” My expectations had been much too lofty for anything that he could have conjured up.

But then I decided to watch it again.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

Yes, we remain a young nation. A nation with youthful energy and curiosity. But we must not give in to irresponsibility. We have to show transparency, the good in each of us that strengthens all of us, and act justly upon our convictions.

With “all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness,” President Obama invoked The Declaration of Independence’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But words are mere words without action. We have to break free of the shackles that constrict our spirits, limit the scope of our dreams.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things…

Do not sit back idly. When each brick of the crumbling economy falls upon us, we have to reach high and erect a wall once more. We do not cheat our fellow citizen, and exploit him to turn a profit. Instead, we must build and dig, create and redesign.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control – and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

The partisan bickering is futile. Gone are the Reagan days of debating whether the government is too big or too small. Does our government work? We must build upon everything based on that question. Where the government is effective, those measures will remain in place. Where the government goes wrong, it will be swiftly remedied. The reason why there is such little faith in government is because hypocritical lawmakers and politicians devote their energy and our tax dollars on arguing over petty matters. When the time comes to judge them, however, they are never accountable. To all politicians, from President Obama to the local school board official, focus on a solution to the problem, not on our differing ideologies.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.

We will not sacrifice our morals and values in the name of national security. We shall not torture and dehumanize the enemy in exchange for a false sense of safety. For over two hundred years, the United States has been viewed abroad as a nation of laws and ideals, of principled men and an unwavering belief in personal freedom. We must close Guantanamo and take our troops out of Iraq to restore our image abroad, to show that the United States has not forgotten the meaning of justice or spurned the world’s trust.

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Mr. President, that was one heck of a speech.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Law, Media, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Political Institutes and the Dystopian Future of Film

Films advancing political views are as old as films themselves.

In 1915, “The Birth of a Nation” provoked controversy by suggesting that the Ku Klux Klan restored order in the post-Civil War South, allegedly endangered by abolitionists, freedmen, and politicians from the North.

However, it is striking to learn that there are institutions that actively use films to advance a political ideology.

What is the Moving Picture Institute? From their “History” section:

Founded in 2005 by human rights advocate Thor Halvorssen, the Moving Picture Institute is unlike any other foundation dedicated to promoting the ideal of liberty. At MPI, we believe that film, more effectively than any other medium, can bring the idea of freedom to life. In keeping with that belief, we are working to ensure that film becomes a center of genuinely democratic art in the coming years. Our goal is to guarantee that film’s unique capacity to give shape to abstract principles—to make them move and breathe—is used to support and promote liberty. Toward that end, we fund films from development through post-production, support up-and-coming filmmakers, and serve as a high-level intern placement service.

Historically, the film industry has been largely unconcerned with developing a distinctive and nuanced portrait of deep-seated American values such as free speech, freedom of association, and the free enterprise system. Such values have been defined and defended almost exclusively in print and through oral argument. But as visual media become increasingly prevalent, we depend more heavily upon movies for our philosophical, moral, and social guidance. If the ideal of freedom is to endure—if it is to maintain its vitality and relevance in our society—it must find its way into film, our most vital, relevant, and far-reaching art form. Freedom must be seen to be believed.

If the masses truly are relying upon movies for guidance in these critical matters, then this may be the beginning of a very slippery slope within the film industry: what stops an institution, or even a government, from producing films that attempt to brainwash? While this may seem like a topic reserved solely for a science fiction novel, let us not underestimate the influential power of the motion picture.

The problem is that media, in recent years, have become battlegrounds for partisan politics. “Outfoxed” tackled this issue with respect to the news media:

This is not to say that the Moving Picture Institute’s films, which have a right-wing slant, are invalid. Here are two of them:

The foreseeable problem is an unnatural escalation of left- and right-wing films being produced — not unlike a nuclear arms race. Both sides of the political aisle would compete for your attention, your loyalty. For two hours, while fact blends with fiction, you become their social experiment.

Keep your eyes open, and be wary of the political propaganda. Films are likely the next frontier.

January 18, 2009 Posted by | Art, Film, Media, Politics, TV | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments