Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Watching The Inauguration.

Duty called for work today. But thanks to a 20th Century VCR, I'm able to watch the 43d peaceful transfer of power in the United States tonight. Here's what struck me.

Barack Obama walking the hallway to the stage is a supremely self-confident man. It's still more than a bit off putting to hear Obama's supporters chanting his last name, but seeing them wave the American flags was a beautiful sight. I didn't vote for the new President, but if electing him is what it takes to get liberals to start waving the flag, well, maybe his election is a good thing.

Dianne Feinstein of California, my Senator, is a great master of ceremonies. Why can't she be majority leader of the Senate instead of that worm from Nevada? Her remarks put today's exciting event into a nice historical context of the civil rights struggle. It would have been even nicer if she had hearkened back to the Civil War when hundreds of thousands of Americans died to remove the blight of slavery from this country and from our constitution.

Pastor Rick Warren's prayer stumbled in the beginning but ended powerfully. His unapologetic Christianity, and the subtle ecumenical references in the speech, were refreshing to hear. A people committed to true diversity doesn't need to steer expression to the least offensive denominator. A people committed to true diversity listens silently and respectfully to a prayer that expresses a faith not shared by all. A people committed to true diversity understands that diversity of thought is the hallmark of freedom.

John Roberts screw up of the oath of office did not look so bad on TV. When I heard it on radio this morning, it sounded catastrophic. Even so, you've got to wonder why he didn't just read the oath from a card like the one John Paul Stevens used for Joe Biden's oath.

The President's speech comes off better on TV than it did on radio. On radio, it sounded pedestrian and banal. On TV his presence infuses the speech with a power beyond its words. President Obama's speech was at its weakest when he argued against straw men, attacked his predecessor, and asserted that his own plans are something new beyond today's partisan divide. But his speech was most powerful when it reached into history to put our task today into the context of America's work over time to make a better world for succeeding generations. Our generations alive today are links in a chain of progress. It also had power when he assertively defended the greatness that is America, told the world that we will not apologize for who we are, that we will fight to defend ourselves against those who would destroy us, and that our enemies will be judged by their people for what they build not what they destroy. Finally, his concluding analysis of the American character and his call to service showed a powerful understanding and appreciation of this country's people.

The new President clearly loves his daughters. That big smile cracking his stern visage when he greeted them after his speech spoke volumes.

Elizabeth Alexander is reciting her poem. Sorry, but here's a thought, how about we have no more inaugural poems, okay?

Reverend Joseph Lowery's benediction is a poem. That old guy at 87 years old still has what it takes. What a beautiful prayer with coy and delightful final lines. Lowery's prayer was a fitting conclusion to the inauguration's speeches.

The final ritual of the inaugural ceremony is the most practical one and the least public. After the speeches, and as everybody is leaving the inaugural site, the President walks the former President to a helicopter waiting to take the former President out of the capital city. There's a powerful symbolism to that. The new President essentially shows the former President the door as if to say, "there's only room in this town for one President. That's me, not you." It's all very polite and friendly but it is firm, final, and humbling. The formerly most powerful man in the world is now a private citizen with no authority and no place in the capital.

And so now our country moves forward with a new leader freely chosen by us, toward a destiny uncertain, but one we still have the power to shape. May we choose our path wisely.


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