President Obama - 9.5 out of 12


It is impudent and churlish of me to rate the powerful and moving speech we heard a couple of hours ago. But as I set up four tests this morning I thought I would quickly refer back.

On the first, getting people to see that change relies on us changing, I give the President  3 out of 3. As I said earlier, this is a point made in most inaugurals, but where others may have sounded perfunctory or pious, Obama was emphatic and sinuous. This was a speech that made you think about your own life and responsibilities.

On the second test, framing this moment in human affairs, I give 2.5 out of 3. The assertion of progressive values and the demand that the old debates and dichotomies be set aside was strongly delivered. The only disappointment, to me, was that he didn't find a new way - beyond, perhaps, the age of responsibility - of framing these remarkable times.

On my fourth test, America and the world, it is 3 out of 3 again. Between disengagement and interventionism, President Obama offered a more subtle message: America is here to provide leadership and support, but only to those who choose to turn to us.

Which leaves my third test and the one I felt the speech failed. This was managing expectations. If the President had chosen one or two priorities - for example, universal health care - he could have used this speech to disarm his powerful opponents. This was also an opportunity to manage expectations. But by reverting to a list of ambitions from renewable energy to school reform I fear he may have done neither.

But perhaps none of this matters. I watched the speech in a minister's office in Whitehall - all of us watching knew this would be a few minutes we would remember for the rest of our lives.

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