It was a heckuva show. Obama, doing his best to keep up with Justice Roberts' botched oath. Michelle, regal, if a tad over dressed in gold (loved the olive gloves). The two impossibly well-behaved little girls in their vibrant violet and orange coats. Dubya, steeling himself for the inaugural redress - the inevitable rejection of everything he's done or didn't do. Cheney in a wheel chair, looking like some long-lost member of the Adams family. The Reverend Purpose-Driven Homophobe pronouncing Sasha and Malia's names like some overzealous NPR reporter gargling with a foreign word. Joe Biden's irrepressibly good-natured chicklet grin. The ancient Tuskegee Airmen, proud to have lived to see the day. Aretha Franklin, in less than full voice, and more than full hat. The incredibly dense and diverse crowd covering every speck of the mall. The Rhymin' Reverend Lowery,whose immortal verse "So the Red man can get ahead, man," can not be topped, which is probably why he didn't include Asian Pacific Islanders in his benediction. The pomp, the pageantry, the parade, the people, the pride! Yes, I did go through a couple of tissues. Then again, I cry at movies, classical music concerts, transcendent Olympic performances and national anthems. Anybody's national anthem. As I sniffled over the inauguration of our Nation's first African American President, I couldn't help asking myself, how much of the euphoria was due to the man and the moment and how much was just plain relief that the insane clown posse has finally vacated the People's House. I think it's about 50/50.
The inaugural address was sober, somewhat generic and low on sound bites for the ages, which may have been what was called for in these anxious times. We heard the anticipated calls for patience, sacrifice and cooperation, and a clear but classy rejection of the Bush administration's more misguided policies.
Here are my personal highlights:
"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expediency's sake." Subtext: No more lying to the nation. No more Gitmo, Abu Graib, water-boarding, extraordinary renditions, and spying on American citizens. Cut to Dubya, parsing the put down with an uncomfortable look on his face.
"We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. "No more stem cell research bans or global warming denials. No more bribery, hookers, booze and cocaine at the Department of the Interior. No more cutting funds to foreign aid organizations that provide poor third world women with birth control. No more willfull ignorance and stupidity, at least not the governmentally sanctioned kind.
"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Woo hoo! Diplomacy! What a concept! The stick remains an option but the carrot is back on the table.
And finally, "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers." Thank you, President Obama, for acknowledging the existence of atheists and agnostics as people, rather than as some sort of scourge destroying our nation's moral fiber. As evidenced by the 2007 gallop poll displayed below, this milestone of the first African-American President was not so unexpected. But Hell may freeze over before we get our first atheist president. (And of course, as a secular person, I don't believe in Hell, so that's even longer than it sounds). Which is too bad, because a commander in chief who believes this life is all there is just might have second thoughts about starting an unnecessary war. Meanwhile, I just sat patiently through the prayers bookending the inaugural ceremony – the fatuous white Reverend and the cuddly old black one. I'm just grateful Obama was mindful of the fact that he needs the progressive vote in 2012 and acknowledged us secular folk. Besides, if I had any rational reason to believe in the power of prayer, I too would be down on my knees. Obama is going to need all the help he can get.