With all his rhetorical might, Barack Obama in his Inaugural Address endeavored to pull the country back into the realm of the rule of law. Although this sisyphusian task will require a great deal more work than rhetoric, this is where it starts and already perhaps this indicates a reverse of course. It certainly feels good to see the new president playing to his strength and using his force of his words to serve notice on the planet that the false choice between security and liberty is over and the constitution has returned.
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.
Similarly, Obama also served notice that
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, not 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.
Such is his attack on the sovereignist approach to power that is derisive of the rule of law. Obama reminds us that such power is doomed because it is discordant with the “justness of our cause, the force of our example.” Obama here is referring to the integrity of our institutions in their treatment of individuals when integrity is measured against the American character which is recognizes is rooted in the immigrant and slave experience.
Obama also reclaimed the immigrant basis for its own identity, appealing to the small town in Congo where his father was born. The ideal for Obama is to be found in the immigrant experience.
His use of the immigrant experience in this speech is anathama to the immigrant control system that has been developed over the past eight years. Put simply, Obama entered office with a strong commitment to end the injustices experienced under the Bush Administration.
It seems clear that an Obama Administration will use much different tropes when framing the immigrant. than the ones the country has been forced to endure under Bush. The question I have is whether this is enough of a commitment to actually reverse course, given the inordinant amount of government resources already exhausted on immigration control. Keep in mind his address bore no refere3nce to immigration reform; it spoke of cleaning up other messes in concrete terms but his references to immigration were vague and abstract. America’s greatness lies in its immigrant past; its character built on the backs of immigrants and slaves. But will his appreciation of immigration translater into concrete policies that reverse the Bush abuses of power? It remains to be seen if the President’s attack on sovereign approaches to power will translate into concrete efforts to extend constitutional law into the immigration field.