Like everyone else in America and the world, I was glued to my television set on January 20th watching Inauguration Day and the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.
I was struck by the symbolism of Vice President Dick Cheney, considered by many to be one of the chief architects of the Bush Presidency, if not the puppet-master pulling strings behind-the-scenes, wheeled to the ceremonies in a wheelchair. (The explanation: pulled his back lifting boxes The reality? Who knows.)? I admit to referring to Vice President Cheney as Darth Vader on occasion, and, for me, the symbolism of Cheney, broken and bowed in his wheelchair being escorted from the premises and, conversely, the old lions of the Senate, Teddy Kennedy and Robert Byrd, needing to be evacuated by ambulance from the Senate luncheon that followed the parades and swearing in, was more than symbolic. It was prophetic. It symbolized the broken promises and the long-held dreams of visionaries like Martin Luther King and the Kennedys, finally, at last, coming to fruition with this man, at this time, in this place.
The minister at the swearing in on the steps of the Capitol building described Obama’s Inauguration “a hinge point of history,” the swearing-in of the first African-American President. He observed, “Dr. King (and others) are shouting in heaven.” He referenced “a new birth of clarity in our aims and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.” Aretha Franklin sang “My Country Tis of Thee” and four consummate musicians (Itzhak Perhlman and Yo Yo Ma among them) played “Air & Simple Gifts” from an arrangement by John Williams, known to us all for his many years of work scoring Stephen Spielberg’s films.
Despite a few miscues during the actual taking of the presidential oath, (caused, it was said by the Chief Justice deciding to try to get through it without notes), Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States and drove away from a luncheon marred by medical problems for Teddy Kennedy and Robert Byrd chewing gum in a limousine bearing the plates US1.
During his eagerly anticipated remarks to the nation and the world, Obama acknowledged that, “I stand here today humbled” as well as mindful of the huge task before him. He thanked President Bush for his “service to our nation” and noted that the oath of office was taken “amidst gathering storms.” I had to stifle a sneer when a commentator on NBC remarked of Bush and Cheney, “Both men, of course, love the outdoors.” To twist the cliché, with friends like Bush and Cheney safeguarding the outdoors, who are the enemies? They have done more harm, environmentally, than any previous administration, harm that will not easily be reversed even in generations. I waxed nostalgically romantic at the loving look that Michelle Obama gave Barack as he took the oath. And I admit, I shed a tear when a man in the crowd held up a sign that read, “We Have Overcome!”
I was struck by the number of verbal slaps (oblique ones) Obama took at the outgoing Administration. And rightfully so. The 44th President spoke of “an economy badly weakened by greed” and noted, “The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.” This obvious slap at Bush’s tax cuts and preferential treatment for the wealthy (at the expense of the middle and lower classes in this country) was followed by an Obama vow to select “hope over fear, unity of purpose over fear and discord.”
The Bush forces, led by “Bush’s brain,” Karl Rove, used fear to manipulate we seemingly gullible masses for 8 long years. War in Iraq. WMD. Outright lies. “Mission accomplished!” “Heckuva’ job, Brownie!” Let us hope that that long national nightmare is over forever. Red alert. Yellow alert. Green alert. The use of color imagery, this day, was by Reverend Lowry, who talked of mellow yellow and white embracing right and did not omit any ethnic group in his rhyming couplets.
Obama struck out obliquely at policies like Bush’s Guantanamo Bay incarceration of terrorists without any right to counsel or any idea of when or if their cases might come to trial. He indirectly criticized extraordinary rendition, where political prisoners are transferred to other countries to be tortured, all in the name of safety for our liberty-loving nation. Obama said, “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. We will not give them (our ideals) up for expediency.” The wiretapping of American citizens without warrant; the waterboarding; the Abu Ghraibs: hopefully, under this president, gone forever.
Obama noted, for the watching world, “We are ready to lead once more,” and warned the terrorists abroad in far-flung lands, “You cannot outlast us and we will defeat you.” This former junior Senator from Illinois said, “Our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness,” and commented movingly that only a mere 60 years ago, his own father might not have been able to be served in the restaurants of the city and land he now governs as our chief elected official and head of our armed forces.
Obama has not forgotten his own African heritage, stating, “We pledge to work alongside the people of poor natives.” He saluted “the fallen heroes who lie at Arlington and whisper through the ages.”
Obama mentioned many of the American work ethic virtues that we will need to embrace and reweave into the fabric of our country in order to rise above the many problems that have beset us. Among them were honesty, hard work, courage, loyalty, patriotism, kindness and selflessness,” and he mentioned, “The quiet force of progress throughout our history…the price and the promise of our citizenship.”
In quoting George Washington, our nation’s first president, who faced some of the greatest challenges of any president in history in forging a nation from a rag-tag band of settlers, he said (to paraphrase loosely), “In the face of our common dangers, let us remember that when we were tested, we did not turn back.”
Obama praised “the risk-takers, the doers” and he wore his American flag lapel pin, which became such a bogus campaign issue during the long-fought slog to the presidency. He sought to reassure us, the citizens of the United States of America, that, “We remain the most prosperous and powerful nation on Earth…Starting today, we will rededicate ourselves. We will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the act of remaking America.”
At that point, he earned a sigh from most of us who believe in evolution and all who want cures found for diseases like Alzheimers and diabetes by stating that this administration will “restore science” in the land. The research clock was turned back many, many hours by the policies of George W. Bush in regards to stem-cell research, and one can only speculate, at this point, what would have transpired had the nation (once again) elected to its highest office, the alternative(s) offered by the loyal opposition.
The speech lasted 18 minutes and 16 seconds and was, after all, just a speech. But no less a dignitary than Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said, in a live comment to NBC that he had not been this excited at an inauguration since JFK’s in 1960…when he was not old enough to vote. I second Senator Leahy’s comments. And I found high drama in the medical emergencies that ensued between two of the longest-serving Senators in the nation, Teddy Kennedy and Robert Byrd.
Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said that Obama represented “a unique figure coming to power at a unique time” and stated that his election marked “a return to what it is that made America special. We’ll be a beacon of hope again.”
Then, sadly, at the Senate luncheon following the swearing-in ceremony, both Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator Robert Byrd suffered medical emergencies that required them to be taken by ambulance to the hospital. Kennedy, who is suffering from brain cancer, suffered a seizure. The commentator noted that John Kerry’s wife was trying to administer medical assistance. Having seen Teresa Heinz. Kerry in action on the campaign trail, I hope the ambulance attendants got there fast. She talks a long game (not a good game) and she probably cost John some votes on that score. What she knows about medicine, I do not know.
I first saw Barack Obama on December 28, 2007 at the River Center in Davenport, Iowa during the Iowa caucus season, and I followed him (and all the others) throughout their appearances leading up to today, January 20, 2009. My adventures were such that at least one publisher has urged me to write a book about them, and perhaps I will, faithful reader(s).
Meanwhile, to those who say, “Why aren’t you in Washington, D.C.?” celebrating the Inauguration, I cite my own economic reality after just experiencing the crush of one million people in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Five days in New York City is not cheap. And I mention the birth of two new citizens, Ava and Elise Wilson, and my need to help wrangle newborn twin granddaughters.
And I will return, tonight, to Davenport, Iowa’s River Center, to celebrate with other Iowans. This is a small state, a predominantly white state, and a polite state of hardworking people—many of them farmers— who have traditionally been thought to vote Republican. But this is a state that reads and thinks and writes and debates. This is a place where people think about the issues and talk about them.
This small state of just over 3 million people, 91% white, is comprised primarily (89%) of towns with fewer than 3,000 people, according to the most recent Census figures. Hundreds of towns in the state have fewer than 1,000 inhabitants and, of those towns, 52% are Protestant (according to a study conducted in 2001 by City University of New York) and 23% of townsfolk describe themselves as Roman Catholic, with Lutherans and Methodists the largest Protestant denominations.
Iowa is not a state for sissies. When it’s hot, it’s very, very hot (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit is not unusual) and when it’s cold, 20 and 30 below zero are no strangers. In 2001 (and, also, in 1968) Iowa had over 105 tornadoes in just one calendar year, and, last year, 12 people died in them.
The sturdy folk of Iowa are largely of Western European descent, most notably German (35.7%), Irish (13.5%), English (9.5%), Native American (6.6%) and Norweigan (5.7%). [That list hits 2 of my 3 ancestors, with the Irish/Norwegian note, and the third part of the trifecta, where I am personally concerned, is Dutch, with a grandmother who came over from the old country at age 13.]
Despite some doubting Associated Content readers who ridiculed me for my prediction of an Obama win in the Iowa caucuses before they occurred, we can now definitely say, “As Iowa goes, so goes the nation.”
I will not be present in Washington, D.C. for the 10 formal balls that occur tonight (although I did get an invitation, which I posted on my blog earlier), but I will return to where it all started, for me…and, really, for Barack Obama…back in Iowa at the Iowa caucuses: the Davenport, Iowa River Center auditorium. The plainspoken (we speak a dialect known as North Central American English and/or North Midlands English, depending on whether we are from the north or the south of the state, if you budding linguists care) people of Iowa saw a man uniquely gifted to try to right the floundering ship of state after 8 hapless years of Bush 43, and Iowa gave Obama his golden ticket to ride. Without Iowa, there are no Inaugural Balls such as those he will attend until 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday, January 21, in Washington, D.C.
It is people like the good citizens of Iowa, and all those others of this great nation, joining together, all 50 states’ worth of us, working hard and with hope…who will determine if Barack Obama becomes a president as revered as Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, who also faced tumultuous times during their presidencies.
God bless America and God bless Barack Obama as I write this on his Inaugural day, January 20, 2009.