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The Guardian 28 January, 2009


Remaking America?

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America," announced Barack Obama delivering his inaugural address from the steps of the Capitol to loud applause and cheers from the more than one million people who had gathered in the National Mall. "For, everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift. And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

"We’ll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do."

From coast to coast across the USA and around the world, millions of people were glued to television sets to witness President Obama’s inaugural address on January 21. The first black American president; a young man with energy and confidence who brings hope to so many for change.

Barack Obama won the presidential election following an unparalleled upsurge and mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of rank and file activists from among the American people. Obama’s positive approach, his commanding appearance and brilliant oratory that acknowledges the problems of ordinary working people offers hope for change.

The totally discredited and highly unpopular George W Bush quietly exited back stage still mouthing a few hollow lines about spreading peace, freedom and democracy. It is his legacy of war, torture, attacks on democratic rights and freedom, climate change denial, social dislocation and blatant transgressions of international law that people want to see changed. A survey by British public broadcaster BBC confirmed the belief across the world that Barack Obama will improve US relations with the rest of the world.

The new president could not have taken over at a more difficult time — global financial crisis, an economy in recession, massive and rising unemployment, the manufacturing sector in crisis, an economy afflicted by massive distortions and largely dependent on the collapsing financial sector and a highly destructive and counter-productive military industry.

Millions of people are without health-care cover, millions have lost their homes, millions live in dire poverty. Internationally, people are looking for a solution in the Middle East, an end of war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, co-operation on climate change, eradication of poverty, a solution to the global food crisis, and much more.

"To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect.

"We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the spectre of a warming planet." The promise to withdraw combat troops from Iraq stopped short of pulling all troops out of Iraq or promising reparations. The strategic occupation of Afghanistan will continue.

The speech was strong in patriotism and offered reassurances for the ruling class of America with references equating communism with fascism, and presenting the US as the "most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth".

There are similarities to the campaign and approach of the Rudd government. On day one Obama commenced to carry out promises. He issued a series of Executive Orders calling for the closure of the Guantánamo prison within one year. Obama called for an end to the use of torture. He did not, however, go the next step of ending US occupation of Cuba at Guantánamo Bay.

The extent to which the new president fulfils the high expectations of so many people to remake the world and remake America will hinge not only on genuineness of his commitment but on the strength of the mass movements behind him. The ultra-right forces and corporate sector are already lining up to resist progressive changes.

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