Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Everyone who braved the freezing temperatures or watched the inauguration on TV witnessed history as an African-American man was sworn into the most powerful office in the world.
President Barack Obama is, in many ways, the fulfillment of our destiny as a free and equal society, a breathing embodiment of our most cherished idealistic hopes of a colorblind nation. He is, quite simply, a pioneer and transforming figure, one representing the future of the 21st century – where multiculturalism and diversity aren’t frowned upon nor feared.
Obama is not a Baby Boomer; he’s from a generation sandwiched in between the Boomers and Generation X, whose ideals were shaped in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He’s not a child of the 1960s and carries no baggage from that tempest-tossed era. He is a product of a multi-racial, multicultural family, whose story is quintessentially modern and American and whose charisma and drive has made him admired and successful. His critics hate him and his supporters love him, yet he’s not as polarizing as many politicians. If anything, he’s a unifying force, one with optimism and intelligence.
Now if this sounds like a gushing love letter from Chris Matthews, it isn’t.
I’m just stating that Obama is different than what we’ve seen in the stogy halls of power in Washington. He’s a breath of fresh air, and a contrast from the last eight years.
George Bush swaggered into office with all the chutzpa of a Texas cowboy with sights on remaking the political landscape into his image – a GOP patchwork of Bible thumpers, neocons and warmongers. Eight years later he left Washington without the swagger. He couldn’t wait to get on Marine One and fly the hell out, with over a million people on the National Mall jeeringly singing Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Them Goodbye.”
Dick Cheney had an ignominious departure, hunched over in a wheelchair and resembling the villainous Mr. Potter from “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Liberals gushed over the exit, which closed the book on eight years of bungling, lying, vindictiveness, pettiness, criminality and hostility.
Yet it wasn’t closing the door on the Bush years that mattered, but the start of the Obama administration which began with an oath of office that included a name unlike any that came before it.
Barack Hussein Obama.
So foreign, so exotic, and after 9/11 so forbidden.
He didn’t back away from using his middle name, which became a liability during his campaign. Oft-mocked and teased from the rednecks, Obama’s middle name was a sticking point, yet he used it at his inauguration, flaunting it, holding it in his critic’s faces as if to proclaim, “Yeah, this is who I am and where I come from. This is my family’s heritage, yet I’m American.”
I watched the event with the local Democratic leader and a friend from California who opened her house to us and served champagne. While they enjoyed Obama’s inaugural speech, I found it to be boilerplate.
Obama’s speech lacked the oratory rhetoric and eloquent platitudes as FDR or JFK. The absence of quotable or lofty ideals was a shrewd move; instead of impressing with sweet words, Obama conveyed a somber, sobering agenda amid a rebuke of the Bush years.
His speech was straightforward and to the point: this isn’t business as usual. This is how far we’ve cone and what we still need to accomplish. The times call for seriousness and action, and partisan bickering and prejudice are counterproductive.
It wasn’t a stirring or moving speech – it was a necessary speech.
It wasn’t dad lecturing you on morals after you broke a neighbor’s window playing baseball; it was dad telling you that you need to pay for the damage.
Some notable highlights:
“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”
“The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.”
“We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.”
“We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.”
“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
The only real notable thing about Obama’s speech is the inclusion of “nonbelievers” in the parade of religious affiliations. Atheists have always gotten the short end of the stick in our society, and I was glad to see Obama address that.
Will Obama instantly alter the American zeitgeist overnight, magically curing our social and economic ills? Of course not. Obama is no more a panacea than Lincoln was. Presidents are not perfect and can only do so much. He will fuck up and let us down. He’s not infallible. Yet when this happens, will the multitude of ObamaZombies still be with him, or will they be the first to lambaste and chastise?
Whatever happens over the next four years, good or bad, we’ll weather it together, our eyes turned eagerly to the future, with the past a humbling reminder of how far we’ve journeyed.