Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day In Tbilisi

OFF TOPIC: I'm in Tbilisi again for a month, working for an EU project. Thus I spent Inauguration Evening (morning in the US) with good Georgian friends watching the events on CNN. All of us were fascinated by the manifestation of freedom in America.

Congratulations, Mr. Obama. In your first few hours you said the right things, outlined substantive goals and challenged us all to step up for America. You looked good, you sounded good (some peculiar CNN criticisms to the contrary) and you gave us all motivation and confidence.

I fielded some interesting questions and heard a bunch of interesting remarks. It occurs to me that there isn't a general understanding of our Republican-Democrat divide and how it differs from the concept of "opposition party". I admit the difference may be subtle. Bush Derangement Syndrome suggests that difference may no longer even exist. Opposing points of view are necessary to a free people. I hope we can overcome the cynical view that only one party knows how best to govern and get past the days when diatribe replaced discussion.

Here in Georgia even the most astute observers wonder: after elections do Americans really come together, work together in support of their leaders no matter their party? I explained that yes, we do. I hope I live that assurance. Political differences and slights are not always and not easily put aside but we believe they must be for America to persevere. We strive for a joining of hands in common purpose, working together to further not only our interests but for what we perceive as the interests of both our allies as well as those who are not allied with us.

"Freedom isn't free" is one of my favorite mantras. It's not well understood either. In the FSU (and likely elsewhere but I'm not so widely traveled) one of the most common anti-reform assertions you here is that "the people of (insert country name) are not yet ready for freedom but we (leaders du jour) are leading them in that direction." But there is no such thing as a "national version" of freedom. Others may not define your freedom! That's what freedom is all about. There is only... freedom. The PEOPLE aren't ready to be free but somehow WE are? Those are the words of despots, not free men. To illustrate, the citizens of Russia know they are not free but Mr. Putin says they are redefining freedom in the Russian way. They're not, he is, and their freedom isn't free.

Start with free speech, a free press and free elections. The rest will follow. Yes, we can.

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