Nearly 30 people gathered in my apartment, also known as Moishe House Beijing, to watch the live, sometimes stuttering feed of Obama’s inauguration. There was a young Israeli couple, a Swede, an errant Irish girl and the rest were Americans.
Given the expectations resting on the day and the speech to come, the invocation by Pastor Rick Warren was like getting a root canal before a birthday party. Even as he was striking a note of communion – "Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans. United not by race or religion or by blood, but by our commitment to freedom and justice for all" – the rhetoric was couched in Christian scripture, a fact not lost on the mostly Jewish crowd, which got in plenty of snarky comments about church-state separation.
Much of Obama’s speech was about freedom and the United States as a model for other nations. Viewing America and its actions from abroad, especially from China, I felt a bit schizophrenic in my reaction to Obama’ speech: Sometimes I was proud of my country’s professed values, sometimes the words sounded as worn and hollow as a Chinese government spokesman repeating the party line.
The 20-something generation, and really anyone who voted for Obama, has been accused of naïveté, of hoping for a savior when Obama is only man. This profoundly misses the point. The hope in Obama’s speech was not the hope of a deluded nation. In truth, the whole world is looking for some hope. In Beijing, migrant workers are leaving the city for the Chinese New Year, and many will stay home because of the economic crisis. One man cannot fix this, and that is why the president’s message of hard work and sacrifice was well timed.
So maybe this was our first sacrifice of his term: staying up until 1 a.m. to catch a dose of Western-style hope.