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January 21, 2009
Reflections on an
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.
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