Inauguration of a new president: 20 January 2009
To celebrate this historic day together.
by James Lamont
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To celebrate this historic day together.
Preparation and materials
- None essential, but you might like to download pictures of Barack Obama from http://www.myspace.com/barackobama (this includes video clips that you could play prior to the assembly).
- On 4 November last year, the United States went to the polling booths to choose its next president. The President of the United States is the most powerful political leader in the world and the election campaigns reflect this: total figures are difficult to judge but it is predicted that this election cost over one billion dollars in total. The campaigning began early: the first declarations for candidacy of the Democratic Party began in October 2006; two years before the election. After a brutal and trying series of competitions and primaries, the American public were presented with two very different candidates. The Economist magazine characterized them as ‘America at its best’.
- John McCain represented the right-wing Republican Party. Drawing on his past experiences as a prisoner of war and his reputation as a maverick who would go against the grain to do what is right, he nonetheless was bogged down by his association with the deeply unpopular President George W. Bush. His opponent, Barack Obama, the eventual winner, will be the first bi-racial US president. The son of a Kenyan student in Hawaii and a white anthropologist from Kansas, he promised ‘change’ to the US political system and mindset. This message, combined with his enormous charisma and widespread disillusion with the US political establishment, swept him to office with 53 per cent of the popular vote compared to McCain’s 46 per cent.
- McCain conceded defeat with grace and charity, confirming his reputation for honour and integrity after a bloody campaign in which lies were mixed with truth on both sides. Obama’s exotic lineage and upbringing led to false rumours that he is a Muslim (this was finally dealt with by Colin Powell, a senior general, with ‘So what?’).
- This ugliness and cultural division is what drew many people to the Obama campaign. Obama ran a truly spectacular campaign, drawing in more private small donations than any prior campaign, reflecting his popularity. The elation felt by the enormous crowds who flocked from across the country to his victory rally in Chicago were drawn there perhaps not so much by the man or his policies but instead by what he represents.
The eight years of the Bush presidency have become identified with people’s worst impressions of the United States: an arrogant and aggressive military power which acts according to its own interest only. That is not to say that the US has not done great things in the past few years, just that it has acted in a manner of a hyper-power with little interest in the consequences of its actions. This attitude was reflected in the country’s elites, even after the crushing market failures which have driven much of the western world into recession.
- Obama stood for a new direction, and the people of the United States of America have chosen this path. Whether he will deliver on this enormous promise remains to be seen. What has been shown, however, is that people will demand leaders who act in their interests; democratic leaders must remain accountable. Leaders ultimately work for those they lead, and the price of forgetting this is the loss of power.
Time for reflection
Spend a few moments thinking about the enormous promise that Barack Obama represents in the minds of people right across the world.
Consider the pressures that he, and his family, now live under.
Lord God, we hold before you the new president of the United States of America.
We hold before you the most powerful man in the world.
We ask that he might act with wisdom,
live with integrity
and be supported by the people he rules.
‘O God beyond all praising’ (Hymns Old and New, 479) is sung to the tune by Holst that many associate with ‘I vow to thee my country’. These words may be more suitable for worship in this context.