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Blog // Thoughts
January 21, 2009

Feelings About Obama’s Inauguration

Last night I stayed up to watch Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States of America. It’s one of those global asymmetries;, I can recall watching (or tuning into extended highlights) of a number of these down the years – although I’ve never lived in America. Reading some comments from conservative Christians […]

Last night I stayed up to watch Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States of America. It’s one of those global asymmetries;, I can recall watching (or tuning into extended highlights) of a number of these down the years – although I’ve never lived in America. Reading some comments from conservative Christians in the US, it seems they didn’t even bother to tune in, or at least watch carefully the inauguration of their own president, even as some of us many miles away fought to stay awake in the small hours to catch a glimpse of history.

Obviously Obama’s speech was the centrepiece. Much has been written already about the way he weaved together themes of collective action and personal responsibility. It was not high rhetoric, but it was noble nonetheless.

Also, much has already been made of Obama’s stark and blunt revocation of the Bush administration’s idealism and moral perfidy.

Realism, in the sense of being attentive to reality, is perhaps the best way to describe Obama’s tone. His words inspire because they speak to possibilities that are not constrained by our present reality, even as they try to squarely address it. Yes we can has become what can we do to become what we can be.

Beyond Obama’s speech I found the ceremony inspiring, musically, poetically and culturally. There were so many reminders of what the USA can offer to the world. The one negative, for me, was Rick Warren’s prayer, which was rambling, inarticulate and uninspiring. The contrast with Joseph Lowery’s benediction was stark. The latter was the voice of faith wizened with age and hardened through the experience of hardship and oppression. The former was an easy faith as uncritically consumed as an extra slice of pizza while sitting on the sofa watching television sitcoms.

That said, the most memorable (and perhaps surreal) visual was that of George W. Bush’s helicopter leaving Washington. Like so many other things about this administration, it was a bitter and anaesthetising moment that challenged even the most eloquent of us to comment on fully. Maureen Dowd’s comments in the NYT are the best I’ve read so far, but my feeling is that visual of the helicopter leaving Washington will inspire many more words in the days and weeks to come.

“Not since Klaatu landed in a flying saucer on the Ellipse has Washington been so mesmerized by an object whirring through the sky.

But this one was departing, not arriving.

As W. ceased to be president, he flew off over the Capitol and across the Mall en route to Andrews Air Force Base, and then back to Texas.

I’ve seen many presidents come and go, but I’ve never watched a tableau like the one Tuesday, when four million eyes turned heavenward, following the helicopter’s path out of town. Everyone, it seemed, was waving goodbye, with one or two hands, a wave that moved westward down the Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial, and keeping their eyes fixed unwaveringly on that green bird.

They wanted to make absolutely, positively certain that W. was gone. It was like a physical burden being lifted, like a sigh went up of “Thank God. Has Cheney’s wheelchair left the building, too?”

The crowd was exuberant that George Bush was now an ex-president, and 43 himself was jovial “the way he always is,” according to his last press secretary, Dana Perino.

It was like a catharsis in Greek drama, with the antagonist plucked out of the scene into the sky, and the protagonist dropping into the scene to magically fix all the problems. Except Barack Obama’s somber mien and restrained oratory conveyed that he’s no divinity and there will be no easy resolution to this plot.”

Catharsis, cleansing, conviction and confidence – I felt all of them last night during the inauguration ceremony. One day does not change the world, but, if we see more good days than bad then overtime we can start feel like things really might be changing for the better – and yesterday was a good day!

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