You could’ve fooled me. As I watched the inauguration and symbolic swearing in (official swearing-in has to take place on January 20th before noon) of our 44th President, 51-year-old Barack Obama, the cameras panned the crowd taking in a very entertaining and compelling show. There were people as far as the eye could see, but Fox Business reported a crowd as a relatively puny 600,000. The Washington Post put the number at 900,000. Of course Fox views everything through much narrower (in every sense of that word) eyes so they could have easily missed 300,000 people. I assure you no right-wing electronic media, publication or Website will hit the magic million mark, though it sure seemed that there were that many in attendance or more. The 2009 historic Obama inauguration hit an estimated 1.8 million.
But there can be no underestimating of the number that truly counted; two, standing for the two terms that will now be served by the nation’s first black President. It’s an accomplishment for the ages when you think of slavery, black codes, poll taxes, Plessy v. Ferguson vanishing with Brown v. Board of Education, the 13th, 15th and 24th amendments, Rosa Parks, thousands of miles of marches, the honorable Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the endless roadblocks erected every step of the way that blacks had to knock down to earn the same rights most citizens took for granted.
It was an interesting and between the lines 57th inaugural speech. There was also an undercurrent of toughness that has been absent in most Obama ‘bi-partisan’ addresses, all of which have been met with sneers and derision by the opposition. In many spots no punches were pulled. There was a great line aimed directly at the indifferent to others super-rich and the right-wing “Constitutional” crowd who use that historic and wonderous document to excuse the most radical of far-right extremism.
“The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.” There was also another related and well-crafted line; “For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” Can you imagine Mitt Romney delivering that line? Obama had one more salvo for the corporate captains of industry, “Together we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to insure competition and fair play.” More regulations anyone?
The President made a special reference to three iconic events. There was the bloody 1965 Selma confrontation, the Stonewall clash of 1969 when the gay population simply said “enough” and a
definitive women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York back in 1848.
Obama also appeared to be assuring his supporters that he was going to protect health care and social security. At least that’s the take-away I get from his from his line, “Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”
In addition to the President, I was especially impressed by the obvious standing, dignity and intellect of a woman of nearly 80 years who has carried the very real and still painful burden of her husband being shot to death in the family Jackson, Mississippi driveway nearly a half-century ago by hateful white supremacist, Bryon De La Beckwith. Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of Medgar Evers, delivered the inaugural prayer with the solemnity and commitment the memories of that day must have summoned up in her. I couldn’t help but marvel at the body of work she has contributed to the civil rights movement and the mighty price she had to pay.
There was an equal opportunity generational entertainment guest list that included, among others, the 64-year-old Bostonian, James Taylor, singing “America the Beautiful” and two young ladies half his age in 30-year-old Fort Worth native, Kelly Clarkson of American Idol fame with a breathy “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” and the famed Beyonce, also of Texas roots by way of Houston. She’s the 31-year-old African-American beauty who did our “Star Spangled Banner” proud.
Just before the inauguration, former President Jimmy Carter allowed as to how he was excited to see Beyonce. “I really am. I’m looking forward to seeing her.” Careful, Jay-Z, Beyonce’s hubby. Remember, this is the same fellow who admitted in a Playboy interview back in ’76 (19, not 17) that “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust.” But not to worry, he was just a kid of 52 back then.
One guest in particular made a strong Obama statement to the gay and Hispanic communities. His name was Richard Blanco, an openly gay son of Cuban émigrés who flawlessly read his own powerful poem, “One Today.” The work was a deeply personal homage to all expressions of the American experience. One of just five poets invited to read their works at an inauguration; Blanco joined such luminaries as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. “One Today” wasn’t just tucked away in a drawer somewhere. It was written in a matter of weeks especially for the occasion.
As for the President’s inevitable critics, the predictable right-wing early reaction to the speech was pretty well summed up by The New Republic’s John Judis; “A hodgepodge. There were no particularly memorable phrases or flights of rhetoric.” Judis’ is absolutely correct. For his ilk, promising to care for the vulnerable and protecting people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune is neither particularly memorable or soaring rhetoric.
Unlike Mr. Judis, I was impressed with President Obama’s speech. There were many lines of hope and resolve. It’s tone and content, together with his measured but earnest delivery struck just the right chord.
The President’s next major address to the faithful and not so faithful is the State of the Union speech scheduled for Tuesday, February 12th. He’ll tell Congress essentially the same things he’s been telling the legislators for several years. And, like today’s appeals, the House Republicans will hear very little and what they do hear, they will immediately plot to undermine no matter how many citizens suffer. That’s just the way they’re built.
Perhaps that’s why Paul Ryan was so roundly booed when he showed up at the event.