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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Legacies

The American president, who counts himself an author, delivered an eloquent speech the other day. It is said to be his final "state of the union" address so he most likely meant it for the ages--for every author wants his words to last, even more than he wants them to sell.

Yet barring any major intervening events, Mr Obama has one more opportunity to make his mark in this way. This is his Farewell Address. The first and most famous of these was George Washington's, in which he asked his countrymen, among other things, to adhere to a strict policy of neutrality in their dealings with other nations.

Mr Obama would do well to have a look at the classic little book by Felix Gilbert, To the Farewell Address. He might then consider a similar address: less preaching to his fellow citizens about how they should think and act than asking them to imagine a different world, one in which independence and neutrality may still be possible, but without distance or duplicity. That is, as in one of Mr Obama's more notorious exchanges, how to be both exceptional and unexceptional at the same time in relation to the wider world.

We know this is what he and they need to do. The question is how. He has a year or so to figure it out.

 
 
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