A Thought on Inauguration Day

Perhaps it's a sign of maturity that on Christmas morning I slept well past 11 o'clock and today, the day of President Obama's inauguration, I was in the living room by 8:30 flipping over news stations and anxiously sipping my morning coffee. Although, my alacrity in watching the inauguration doesn't mean I'm buying into the mythic portrayal of Barack Obama quite yet. Don't get me wrong, at the very least America is looking for change. That's been the theme of Obama and his supporters over the course of this campaign -- though I still maintain that if change is what they're looking for all they have to do is drop by the National Treasury... it's just about all that's left there, har har. But I kid. Sort of.

I don't mean to take away from the fact that today the American people did witness a monumental event; they stood and cheered as a black man swore in as president on a spot that was, ironically, built on the backs of slaves. This is after some 200 years of electing white men to office. I don't even need to say that that's a great move toward inclusivity and plurality.

But I'd like to step back for a minute. Yes, years after the civil rights movement America's finally decided to elect a president with black skin. Yes, after an issue comes into public consciousness and stays there for a century or so, eventually we do something about it. Pats on the back, all around. But what about the issues that are a little less apparent?

With Barack comes new budget director Peter Orszag. Prior to the inauguration Orszag directed the Congressional Budget Office, where he concentrated "particularly on the unaffordable costs that taxpayers face in Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs," according to a New York Times article. Wait, what? Medicare?

Sure, in the 2007 fiscal year, Medicare spending accounted for a big chunk of change, one in which I'm sure valid reforms could be made. But, between the money allocated to the Department of Defense and the War on Terror, the US spent "$474 billion in FY 2006, which is 56% of net discretionary spending, $505 billion in FY 2007, and $554 billion in FY 2008, or nearly 60% of discretionary spending" on the Military. (Copies of the Budget of the United States Government since the 1996 FY are available here for those interested.) More than half of the country's discretionary spending is going towards war and Obama goes with a budget director that's looking for ways to reform healthcare spending?

Listening to the inauguration speech today, I got chills when Obama stated that "[w]e will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense." Is it just me, or does that sound a little too much like the old Manifest Destiny tripe for 2009? And then I'll admit that I was a little confused when he said that the American forefathers "understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please." Sorry, we are talking about America, right? Land of the Monroe Doctrine?

I guess what I'm interested in when it comes to Obama's presidency is how his foreign policy works itself out. In "Addicted to War: Why the U.S. Can't Kick Militarism" (which can be read online in it's entirety here) Joel Andreas investigates America's legacy as a war machine. At the beginning of the campaign, I wondered if perhaps this legacy would begin its decline under Obama, though this does not seem to be the case considering the official Obama/Biden policy that states: "Obama and Biden will secure all loose nuclear materials in the world within four years. While working to secure existing stockpiles of nuclear material, Obama and Biden will negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material." (The rest of the official Obama/Biden agenda is available online here.) Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a world without nuclear weaponry, but I'm pretty sure what's being aimed for isn't a planet rid of nuclear weaponry, but a planet where America controls all the nuclear weaponry.

Yes, on the one hand, it's great to see a nation so united. It's great to see a man who isn't George Bush take the reigns next door, even if he did gaffe a little on the presidential oath. (edit: turns out the guy giving the oath gaffed and Obama un-gaffed; colour me slightly more impressed!) It's great that America finally has a black president. And it's great that so many people have faith that this man can change their country for the better, and who knows, maybe he'll deliver. But, on the other hand, shouldn't we be concerned about a system where 50+% of discretionary spending goes towards war?

And shouldn't we be concerned when a new president walks into such a system with a budget director who's going to try to trim the fat in medicare? Just a thought.

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posted by Ashley Girty @ 12:02 PM,


At January 21, 2009 at 9:40 AM, Blogger Horace said...

Two comments, actually.
First, Obama has said that he will end the war in Iraq 'immediately'; this will probably account for a serious decrease in military spending.
Second, I don't think we actually should "be concerned when a new president walks into such a system with a budget director who's going to try to trim the fat in medicare," since cost-cutting is a noble pursuit! I think the only ones who ought to be concerned are those who have lionized Obama as a savior of the under-represented and a protector of the downtrodden (read: socialists).
Regardless of whence the 'fat' is trimmed, fat-trimming is a laudable thing for any White House staffer to undertake.

At January 21, 2009 at 9:58 AM, Blogger Ashley Girty said...

Well, Horace, I agree with the general tone of your post. Yes, getting out of Iraq by 2010 will cut costs (though if take a lesson from history, we'll see that when the US "gets out of" a country it usually means leaving behind a US-funded regime, eg: Nicaragua, but hopefully this will be one of the ways Obama changes things). But I get your point. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I disagree with the sentiment inherent in Orszag's saying "Woo, look at how much medicare costs!" when so much more has been spent on an illegal occupation. I'm not necessarily defending medicare spending.

At January 21, 2009 at 10:43 AM, Blogger The Hit List said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At January 21, 2009 at 10:46 AM, Blogger The Hit List said...

He halted all executions in "GITMO" before he and Michelle left the inaugural ball. To me that shows promise...however tiny.


At January 21, 2009 at 10:52 PM, Blogger Konstantine said...

Obama may be foresightful and willing to make change, but I'm pretty sure the debriefing he has been getting over the past 24 hours has left him weak in the knees and with a seemingly over tight necktie that may look as an easier exit strategy than moving out of that war torn country.

Not that we don't have our own problems here in Canada, but I'm glad that at least we have relatively pacifict tendencies as a nation.

Konstantine =)



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