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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

First Impression (update)

Love the guy or hate him, I predict that Barack Obama's inauguration speech will become one of the truly great speeches of our history.

My God, the man is inspiring.


And I think inspiration is exactly what this country needs right now.
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Update: I've been looking at President Obama's inauguration address. I intended to offer my own analysis. I may still do so, but for the moment I think these words deserve to stand on their own:
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My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

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.

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 — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the 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 will 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. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

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.

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. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. 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 will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

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 suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

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. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

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 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive ... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

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.


32 comments:

  1. No complaints here. Amazing speech. The man knows how to turn a phrase.

    He knows how to lead. Which is exactly why we elected him.

    WendyB_09

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  2. "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."

    The rest could have all been "Blah-de-blah-blah. Murfle-murfle-Texaco" and that bit would have satisfied me.

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  3. Oh, yes.

    The challenge to be responsible, to make a personal sacrifice, the past remembered, the possibilities of the future...

    "...what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage."

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  4. oops - hit the button too early...

    What Nathan said.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nathan, that's exactly the part that got to me.


    ...well, that and the cutaway to GWB's face precisely 1 second after that statement. The look on that fucker's face was absolutely priceless.

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  6. I thought it was a tremendous come-down from his speech on Rev. Wright. That was an amazing speech. This one? Not so much.

    Cassie

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  7. The whole speech was awesome. He addressed the nation like we were a bunch of grown-ups and talked about hard work and responsibility, pride and hope, America being one nation among many--I am awed.

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  8. I was particularly impressed that he mentioned non-believers alongside Christians, Muslims, and Jews. And he wasn't embarrassed to do so.

    I believe that is a first.

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  9. Well Jim, that certainlly fits with his "we're all in this together" message.
    WendyB_09

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  10. Jim,

    What Nathan said.

    And this:
    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.

    SP

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  11. SP,

    Absolutely. And I agree. If it works, keep it. If it doesn't work shitcan it immediately and recoup the money for things that actually do work - we can start with faith based abstinence only teenage birth control, one the most utterly useless stupidities to come down the pike in the last 8 years.

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  12. It is 2:28pm EST and the view from the Capitol towards the Washington Monument across the Mall -- and you can see the grass. It is not a tragedy, mind you, just a recognition that the Inauguration has come and gone, 43 is on Executive One towards Texas, evil Mr. Potter has been driven to Virginia, and that once again, that uniquely American institution of the peaceful transition of power by schedule has gone on flawlessly.

    This was the first 19th century inauguration that I can recall in my lifetime, back when such political events were the parties and Super Bowls of their day. The paper yesterday pointed out that one of Lincoln's inaugurations led all others with 1.2 million in attendance. The most recent inaugurals? About a third of a million each.

    Despite the cold, the weather was superb. And the speech?

    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 shortcuts 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 -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

    For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

    For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

    Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

    This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed.


    Dr. Phil

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  13. I third or fourth Nathan.

    It's not going to be easy, but, as Rosie said, we can do it!

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  14. "...evil Mr. Potter has been driven to Virginia...

    Speaking of which, am I the only person who wondered what could possibly have been in those boxes that Mr. Cheney injured himself removing from his office?

    Maybe I should start a contest....

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  15. I almost cried during the speech. It was so lovely. It was everything I hoped it would be. Obama and his family have class. This whole transition has been done with amazing grace and humility.

    I couldn't get my two stepsons to watch it. They went to play video games after I told them I would NOT change the channel to Cartoon Network. They have no concept of history. My five-month-old son Jack was happy to watch it with me. I looked at him several times and marveled at the major changes that will shape his life. He'll never know a world where race decides if you get to be president. He'll get to take it for granted. I wonder what other milestones he'll get to see. I wonder what other social changes he'll get to see. Hopefully, he'll inherit a better America because what happened today.

    It was a wonderful moment. It was almost perfect. I will admit there was a small, evil, petty part of me that wishes that after the speech he actually had said "Fuck you, Cracker" as his predecessor walked out the door. That would have been awesome. Dubya should be happy Obama is a classy guy.

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  16. Fuck you, Cracker

    If I'm not mistaken, Amyzon, that's exactly what he said to GWB and the Neocons - he was just more polite about it than I would have been.

    Also, I would have ended the speech with "Arrest that man!" and pointed to Bush.

    But, hey, that's me.

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  17. Another "What Nathan Said" and add on to it the force of our example.

    We used to care about setting an example and being better than other countries and above certain heinous acts. Maybe we will be again. Oh, I hope so...

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  18. Ditto Nathan and everyone else. Including Jim's observance that Bush should've been arrested. I think leading Bush and Cheney away in handcuffs would have been the perfect end to Obama's speech. But I'm petty like that.

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  19. No, you're not mistaken. That IS what he said, and he did a lovely job of it. I just wish he'd been a little more direct in his language for the folks in the audience who may have missed out on the nuances.

    Folks such as George W. Bush. It was fun watching his face during the speech. I could almost hear his thoughts "I know he's insulting me. I know there's an insult in there somewhere. Now what did he say? Hmm...maybe I can have Laura explain it to me later." You could see where he got it and where he just had no clue.

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  20. So, although I think Bush is the dog poo on the bottom of my shoe, I think that Obama and the Congress are correct just to let Bush go, for the same reason that Ford pardoned Nixon.

    Our work here is to go forward, and we cannot do that if we are prosecuting Bush and Cheney.

    Yes, it might make some of us feel better, however it would destroy the feeling of non-partisanship Obama has worked to achieve, and it would distract from the hard work we need to do to make things better by focusing upon the past instead of the future.

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  21. Michelle, I agree with you in principle. I, however, would probably have not been able to resist the urge to lower my right hand at the end of the oath, make an about face, and kick GWB right square in the nuts. Screw the dignity of the office.

    But then, that's why Obama is president and I'm not. :)

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  22. The true story of Cheney hurting his back is that he grabbed hold of the bannister and three Secret Service Agents had to drag him out of the house this morning.

    "Mine, Mine", he screamed (imitating the Penguin.)

    "There, there, sir", replied his S.A.I.C., "we'll take you somewhere nice.

    "Arrggggghhhhhhh"

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  23. EVERY time I see that man I think of The Penguin.

    S.A.I.C. made me think of SAIC, which is not totally inappropriate.

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  24. Mine! Mine!

    Damnit, Nathan, now you've ruined tomorrow's "one final sarcastic shot at Bush and Co" post.

    Mine! Mine!

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  25. I spent the morning watching the inauguration from a conference room of a large nationally-known company on the west coast. All of the large meeting spaces had it streaming.

    I am another who agrees it would have been fun to see him turn and kick GWB in the ding-ding, or have him arrested. However, our new President is not a five-year-old at heart like I am. :)

    What got to me was, like many of you mentioned, seeing the cutaway to GWB's face. One of the 500 people in the conference room I was in said "He's trying to figure out what all the big words mean!"

    I believe they weren't incorrect. I also feel that he knew he'd somehow been dissed, but couldn't quite figure out how. It was a heartwarming moment.

    I also do not believe Cheney was lifting boxes. Seriously, the VP? What boxes on earth would he be lifting? (Unless they're the missing emails...) I have believed for quite some time that he is a very ill man, and that they've been covering it up. How often do you see him in public anymore? I think he's not long for this world. And he's gonna have a helluva lot of explaining to do if there is an afterlife.

    Perhaps someday we will have the pleasure of seeing Bush and Cheney led away in handcuffs as the war criminals we all know them to be.

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  26. ... and for the first time in eight years, I am entirely unafraid to express my honest opinion of Bush & Co on the internet. WOOT!

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  27. I agree - it was a fabulous and inspiring speech - I just watched it on demand.

    Re: to the rest of the comments here, I started to respond here - then decided to write a blog post myself on the subject this afternoon.

    As you've probably come to expect from me, it's not one of support & agreement. :/

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  28. So now that the ball is placed in our court what shall we do. As responsible Americans it is our duty to take this speech and run with it. To make the stated sacrifices for them in the tradition of those who did for us. If toiling and sweating to achieve the greatness we seek to recover then count me in. If I and others of like mind are willing to take up the yoke then let us get to it. We cannot afford to wait for another disaster, man made or natural, to bring us together. It is also beholden on us to make our choices known to our chosen leaders through whatever means possible to make choices that are not politically motivated but are for the greater good. Check the line by line of the stimulus packages and not the doe going to the PGA and tell me that is responsible. Still got a long road ahead of us.

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  29. sheila, who is not lurking todayJanuary 20, 2009 at 8:14 PM

    I agree entirely that it was an inspiring speech. However, who are the people that Obama is trying to inspire?

    I do like how our new president has used technology (Facebook, etc.) to reach young people, and I hope that he will continue to use it to perhaps inspire the younger folks to purposeful action.

    However, part of me despairs. This is a nation filled with addicts and greedy people. Every time I pass a bar parking lot filled with vehicles, I think about what useful things people could have spent their time and money doing, if they weren't busy drinking and pissing away their pay packets as a form of self-medication.

    And it's not just alcohol, it's also addictions to food, smoking, drugs (not just illegal ones but legal drugs as well), video games, pursuit of money without caring about consequences, pornography, and so many other "bad habits" that help people lose their health, time, money, and awareness of the real problems of society (Marx would add religion, but at least there are some religious people who do good works) and cause the terrible waste of resources -- think of the sheer costs of rehab, car accidents, health care, the judicial and prison systems, etc. -- that could have been used for infrastructure, energy security, universal health care, and all the other pressing needs of our society.

    The Americans of today are, for the most part, not the articulate, tough, thoughtful people that fought the Civil War or came through the Great Depression or won a victory in World War II. They are for the most part less educated, less resourceful, and less capable. Many who are more educated and resourceful are in it for themselves and care not for their fellow man or for the remaking of the nation.

    The real question in my mind is whether there will be enough of the right kind of people to make this nation work despite the presence and negative contributions of an overwhelming number of the wrong kind of people -- regardless of what policies and investments the Obama administration chooses to pursue.

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  30. Sheila - do you ever wonder why they feel such a need to self-medicate themselves into oblivion like that?

    I'm hoping Obama will fix some of the underlying causes so that they won't need to do that so much anymore, and will therefore be free to contribute meaningfully.

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  31. What Nathan and Eric said.

    And as you know well, Sheila, I'm hoping that Obama will lead by example. We've had too many years of valuing not measuring up to the better Angels of Our nature. Many will continue to seek comforts in the easy life (and here I'm differentiating between the occasional imbiber and the hard-core distraction/check-out seeker).

    I do think there's enough of us to make a difference. Patrick Nielson Hayden made the comment about why he supported Obama is because he gave people hope. That hope has shown signs of translating into work to help others.

    I think his speech, the talking to us like we're adults, will help. There will always be those who will self-medicate, but I think with Obama those of us who felt marginalized and unwelcome are back at the table ready to help.

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