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January 21, 2009

Reflections on an Historic Day

There's always something amazing about Inauguration Day. Regardless of who the new president is, every four years I'm struck by the realization that in so many places in the world, if the transition of executive power were broadcast on television we'd be watching a war, a coup or a murder. Instead we get leaders, often of opposite and adversarial parties, handing power off peacefully, amid much pomp and ceremony.

Now take the normal ceremonial traditions – “for civics geeks, it's like heaven," Rachel Maddow called it Tuesday – and add a few other wrinkles. Such as the swearing in of a very popular president replacing a very unpopular one, someone known for amazing, rousing speeches, who is the first African American ever elected to the White House. For all that and more, it was a singularly special and beautiful day.

The day was highlighted by a customarily excellent address by Barack Obama – not quite up to the level of the race speech, the convention speech or some of those primary nights, but better than the acceptance speech, and still the best inaugural address in recent memory.

The new president appealed to hope while also not ignoring the challenges ahead. He praised "the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things," and called on Americans to dream big in order to solve our nation's many problems. And he sought to repair America's relationship with the world.

He talked tough to terrorists: "We will not apologize for our way of life," the president said, "nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." But he also slammed down the false choice, often posed throughout the Bush years, that we must choose between "our safety and our ideals."

Indeed, there were many things Obama said that George W. Bush never would. He called for America to "restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost." And when stating that we are a nation of "Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus" – he added "and non-believers."

There were other notable moments throughout the program, such as Chief Justice John Roberts mangling the wording of the oath of office (does this mean he can't be a strict constructionist anymore?). I look forward to nutty bloggers from the Obama's-birth-certificate precincts of the right claiming that because he didn't take the oath correctly, Obama isn't actually president.

And as I expected, Rick Warren's invocation was totally uneventful and unmemorable – about the 15th-most memorable thing that happened Tuesday. Joseph Lowery, on the other hand, was something to behold. And then there was Dick Cheney, in a wheelchair, looking more like Mr. Potter than ever before.

There were wonderful things about the day having nothing to do with the ceremony. Like millions of Americans, in the streets of their capital, celebrating a new liberal Democratic president and a new hope for the future. Let it never be said again that liberals love their country any less than anyone else. Tuesday represented a triumph of hope over cynicism, unity over division and (yes) change over the status quo. 


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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