The characteristic elegance was there but the rhetorical flourishes were infused with steel and a grim determination. It was not quite up there with Kennedy or FDR but it was like a bracing breath of fresh air on a fusty body politic—and light years from Mr. Bush.
To those who thought Obama's America might be a soft touch or a major break with traditional American values, he had this to say: "We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."
It’s clear that he will not hesitate to use American military might when it is required, even if that means upsetting softer European souls.
These are the words Europeans should heed in their pro-Obama euphoria: Those who think they now have a European-style social democrat in the White House will need to think again. A US Democrat, even a liberal Democrat, even a black liberal Democrat, is not a European social democrat, much as the bien pensants of Paris, Berlin and London might wish it.
Curiously (though many will take comfort from this), the speech was more Reagan than Kennedy. This was a new president determined to lift up his troubled nation and brace it for the challenges ahead, but still urging it to face the future with confidence—just as Reagan did. On domestic policy, it was classic moderate New Frontier liberalism, with its reverence for both government and the market—and its emphasis on risk-taking, opportunity and personal responsibility.
This was the inauguration address of a man who intends to govern from the robust center, who recognizes the immense challenges ahead of him, who will break from the Bush administration—but who will not break from the fundamentals which have made America what it is. He just wants to pay more attention to its better angels. Europeans have still to realize this.
They will welcome his belief in soft power (i.e. diplomacy) and his desire to work with allies rather than steamroll them. But it is also clear that he will not hesitate to use American military might when it is required, even if that means upsetting softer European souls. This man is no deluded dove.
Andrew Neil is a publisher, broadcaster, and company chairman working out of London, New York, Dubai, and the south of France. He is chairman and editor-in-chief of Press Holdings Media Group, publishers of The Spectator, Spectator Business, and Apollo.