Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugural Thoughts

It's cold out here on the edge of the prairie today - much colder than it is in Washington. But at the Emporium in Yellow Springs, Ohio, the coffee shop cum wine bar cum village meeting place dozens of my neighbors gathered to watch the inauguration and it was warm indeed. Joy, applause, cheers, tears, disbelief, relief, happiness. (The free wine Kurt provided certainly didn't hurt!)

So a few quick observations: Obama's speech was very good overall but I noticed several things in particular. First, while the campaign turned out to be largely a referendum on the economy, some of Obama's sharpest and most damning words were about the conduct of American foreign policy. This is certainly exciting - joined with Eric Holder's unequivocal rejection of torture during his confirmation hearings, and other statements coming from the new administration. At one point, in the middle of Obama's remarks about foreign policy, the camera panned to Bush, who looked even smaller, more dyspeptic and more trivial than usual.

Second, the line unuttered but hanging in the air was Kennedy's: the torch really has been passed to a new generation. As I watched Dick Cheney being wheeled off in his wheel chair (he pulled a back muscle moving boxes??!! Really??!!) I can begin to believe that we may finally have left 1968 behind us.

Third, I was personally touched to be included in the litany of American diversity - Obama talked about us a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus. And non-believers. Whoohooo! A hearty thanks from all us secular humanists and happy heathens who grow weary of the relentless religiousity of this country.

And speaking of that, I had my fingers stuck in my ears during the Rick Warren invocation so perhaps I missed something important. What struck me, however, was how singularly unimpressive he was - dull, predictable, uninspiring. I've never been to a big-box mega-church, but apparently it doesn't take all that much talent to become the head of one.

Finally, watching all this pomp and circumstance, I couldn't help but wonder whether we were a bit precipitous back in 1776. If we don't want a monarch, exactly, we surely love a coronation. That's the function inaugurations obviously serve for us, complete with honor guards, artillery firing, and endless comment on how the important women are dressed. Compare this to the transition from one leader to another in any European country and it is clear that whatever may divide us, Americans do love a parade.


Anonymous said...

Steve--you now have a calling--to become the Rick Warren of Ohio. It pays a lot better than an academic post. I bet you could write the Purpose Driven Life in your sleep.

Maineiac said...

Because I defended Obama's choice of Warren I was hoping I would be vindicated by a great invocation. It was beyond dull, predictable, uninspiring it was awful, each time he paused for a breath I was hoping he was done. I was cringing the whole time. I don't know what Obama was thinking.

hysperia said...

Apparently, the whole world loves a parade today! I haven't EVER seen Canadians celebrate the inauguration of an American President, as I did today. People are so hungry ...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
English novelist (1812 - 1870)

EdHeath said...

We love a parade/coronation so much we have conveniently arranged to have our kings (or maybe I should use the non-gender specific rulers) changed every four years.

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