The President’s Speech

As most of you know, this is primarily a foreign policy blog, but I feel that whenever the ‘leader of the free world’ makes a speech, the American blogging community is at least somewhat obligated to comment on it. A few thoughts… firstly, pomp and circumstance. I remember from one of my classes in college, or perhaps a book I read, that one of the primary facets of the American system of government and of our republic has always been the pomp and circumstance surrounding the office of the President. This was evidenced by the Inauguration, which I attended, in addition to practically every major speech President Obama gives. It makes me want to be there, in the audience with the rest of Congress. Everything is so carefully laid out, so grounded in tradition, its almost magical. To watch the Cabinet members enter, and Secretary Clinton in that bright red suit. I’ve always had a thing for women in red suits, though Clinton looked far better than Pelosi. But back to the point I was originally trying to make. I think it’s special, and something every American takes pride in–the pomp and circumstance of a Presidential address to Congress. There are few people in this country, let alone the rest of the world, that can command the undivided attention of the entire public, in addition to the entire government. The President of the United States can do that, in addition to commanding the attention of the rest of the world. And especially when you have a President who possesses particularly refined oratory skills…

“What we face,” he wrote, “is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.””I’ve thought about that phrase quite a bit in recent days – the character of our country. One of the unique and wonderful things about America has always been our self-reliance, our rugged individualism, our fierce defense of freedom and our healthy skepticism of government. And figuring out the appropriate size and role of government has always been a source of rigorous and sometimes angry debate.”

That large-heartedness – that concern and regard for the plight of others – is not a partisan feeling. It is not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character. Our ability to stand in other people’s shoes. A recognition that we are all in this together; that when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand. A belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgement that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.”

“You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, and the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter – that at that point we don’t merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.”

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Beirut! Beirut! Beirut!

Just because I haven’t recently posted anything on the world doesn’t mean nothing is happening in the world that warrants my judgment or criticism… I’m merely biding the 13 days I have left in these United States until I embark for Lebanon. Just take a look at this:

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I mean damn; that is where I am going to be studying for a year. I believe the American University of Beirut is comprised of the red-roofed buildings on the far right of the photo, conveniently located right on the sea. My dorm room/balcony better have a view of the ocean. A few thoughts… The Wikipedia article on Beirut notes that the city has been rated in a number of publications as one of the liveliest cities on planet Earth. This should make for an interesting reality, as one of my major complaints about certain parts of the Eastern/Western seaboards of the United States is that there just doesn’t seem to be that much continuous life, in the sense that at some point whether it be a certain day of the week or a certain time of night (9pm in Santa Barbara) the towns just die. It’s like the continuous ebb and flow of people and ideas and civilization just abruptly disappears in some parts of States. There’s nothing wrong with that in particular, but it should be interesting to see how Beirut probably resembles New York City more than say, Los Angeles (though the two are sister cities). Another thought that has crossed my mind recently is just the idea of these places on the eastern part of the Mediterranean. Beirut. Istanbul. These are just places where I have to be in some quasi-philosophical-historical sense. These two cities are like cornerstones of human civilization. Constantly inhabited for thousands of years, the experience of living in them, as centers of cosmopolitanism and cultural, political, and religious diversity, can’t have changed all that much from Phoenician to Greek to Roman to Byzantium to Caliphate to Ottoman to Turkish/Lebanese Republics. In that sense, being there, existing there, and living there is almost timeless. These are the kinds of cities you can still romanticize about. If I were to ever live in Beirut or Istanbul I can already see my house overlooking the waters of the Mediterranean or the Bosphorus. Laid out in Ottoman style, with verandas where light curtains flow with the breezes coming off the water. And there I would sit and write a novel. The same novel written by anyone who has ever lived in either one of these cities and decided to write a novel. A novel influence by the timelessness of these cities.