View Full Version : Two Little (Huge) Things Obama Said

01-21-09, 11:36 AM
January 20, 2009, 6:18 pm
Two Little (Huge) Things Obama Said
By The Editorial Board

There was a lot to reflect on in President Obama’s inaugural speech today, but there were two small points that are worth noting, two things that Mr. Obama mentioned that American politicians, especially presidents, never mention: Vietnam and atheism.

To hear most American leaders tell it, the Constitutional freedom of religion allows you to be a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Christian Scientist, a Sikh — well you get the idea. Basically, a member of any religion. But they never talk about people who do not participate in an organized religion, or are even — gasp! — atheists.

Until today. In talking about defending the American way of life in a frightening world, Mr. Obama said: “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.”

At another point in his address, the new president was paying homage to our ancestors, “who carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

“For us,” he said, “they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sanh.”

Khe Sanh? The 1968 battle in Vietnam that was one of the many times the military leadership badly underestimated the power and intentions of the North Vietnamese Army, at great cost in the lives of American Marines?

Military historians still argue about what happened at Khe Sanh, which has become an iconic symbol of the tragic failures of Vietnam. (Go back and listen to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” for an example of what we mean.)

So why did Mr. Obama mention the battle? Perhaps because it also is a symbol of the courage and self-sacrifice of the Marines, and he wanted to include their service to America in his speech? We’re not certain. But it was interesting to note that he stopped there and did not go on to mention, say, Fallujah.

As for his reference to atheists, the answer could be simple: Mr. Obama actually meant it when he said, “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recrminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”