Although Barack Obama's whole campaign was centered on "change", his inaugural address referred to a "new era of responsibility":
What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
So, what is different from before the address was given? What new responsibilities do we have?
Or was this simply a dig at the Bush administration, suggesting that their "values" were off-key in some ways?
The full paragraph does not provide much more context for this "new era":
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
It is also not clear whether his focus is on the responsibilities of the government or businesses or the responsibilities of individual citizens or all of the above. I certainly hope that he was not trying to suggest that only citizens shoulder full responsibility and that somehow politicians and business leaders and managers are supposed to get some kind of free pass from responsibility for their decisions and actions.
Maybe, when he refers to "a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties" he is in fact attempting to remind politicians and business leaders and managers that they individually have responsibilities to the people, society, and the world as well as to their bosses, boards of directors, and shareholders. Maybe, but his tortured prose, as eloquent as it is, is far from clear.
In the preceding passage of the address he said that "For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies." That seems to refer to the people as individuals, but still fails to make clear whether he is or is not saying that it is our leaders, politicians and business executives, who have the bulk of the "responsibility" for the high-level decisions and direction of the nation as a whole, are going to be held more accountable. The American "people" did not decide to invade Iraq. The American "people" are not deciding that President Obama should send more troops to Afghanistan. Where exactly is the responsibility?
He also mentioned above "This is the price ... of citizenship", but he did not elaborate on that in a clear and unambiguous manner. Yes, we as individual citizens do have responsibilities [speed limits, taxes, jury duty - yay!!], but what differences is he suggesting for this "new era"?
Who knows, maybe this was all just a teaser, a hint of a specific speech to come. Or, maybe he is simply saying that his administration and Congress must now be seen as being more "responsible" than the Bush administration and earlier Congresses.
The only other reference to "responsibility" in the entire address was an early reference to its negative, "irresponsibility", as in "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some." Sure, we want bankers and regulators to be more "responsible", but is he suggesting a level of responsibility as it was eight years ago, or something different?
I believe that there is a role for individual responsibility, but that is a level of responsibility that is outside the review and control of the government. Rather, our politicians and business leaders need to take on an entirely new view of their responsibilities to "us."
In short, I am not sure what President Obama was really asking for or from any of us on this issue of a "new era of responsibility."
Maybe it was some kind of insider "progressive" code language that I am not aware of.
We will have to see how it unfolds, or maybe it was simply a little too much over-the-top eloquence on the part of the new Orator-in-Chief.
-- Jack Krupansky