20 January 2009

The Inauguration of Barack Obama

"We have never seen anything like this," said  the commentator on CNN just as I began to type this.  I have nothing to add that hasn't already been said by someone else, and likely better than I could have said it.  Instead, I am essentially writing this blog entry for myself.  This is to help me remember what I was thinking and doing on this historic day.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and I blogged about our society's journey from the horrors of the slave trade through, well, yesterday.  At night, Rachael and I have gotten into the custom lately of watching movies in bed with commentary tracks playing.  In the spirit of Dr. King's legacy and the inuaguration of Mr. Obama, last night I selected Glory, the 1989 Civil War film about Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachussettes regiment.  Director Ed Zwick spoke several times of how the film only got made half as well as it was because so many talented people took pay cuts or even outright worked for free because they believed in the film.

Denzel Washington earned an Academy Award for his performance.  Zwick described the infamous flogging scene (the only blatantly inaccurate scene of the film, as the military had already abandoned such means of punishment) as saying that it made pretty much everyone on set uncomfortable.  Zwick basically kept the camera rolling and had the actor whipping Washington keep going until he called "cut."  This was to give Washington time to really go into character and deliver the powerful and moving moment that is on screen.  Even with Zwick talking over the performance of an actor I've seen countless times, I was still touched by it.

After the movie was over, I tossed and turned for an hour or more.  I kept thinking about Winston Farrell.  Winston is a world-class poet from Barbados I met in May 2000 during a cross-cultural studies course taught by Professor Morgan Broadhead.  I've kept in touch (off and on) since then, and I was excited to find him on Facebook a few days ago.  I sent him a message that has so far gone unanswered.  I'm sure he's busy with more important subjects than checking his Facebook messages, so I'm not taking it personally.  I remember in 2002, I suppose it was, that Winston came to Louisville.  He seemed to enjoy being here--with the notable exception of the cold weather--but became homesick near the end of his stay.  He composed a poem, "The Rock," about his home country.  The Broadheads (Morgan and his gracious wife, Ann) had invited past students to their home, and I remember Winston disappearing to finish the composition.  He then debuted it with a recitation in their living room for us, and I remember the sheepish way he began, and the sincerity of his voice as he expressed his adolation for Barbados.

I asked Rachael to get me up when she left for work today to make sure that I was awake for today's coverage.  Josie was particularly vocal this morning, and apparently Muffin was trying to shut her up by biting her throat and pulling her down.  I didn't see any of this, but for at least an hour I had to contend with him belligerently chasing her non-stop.  Right now they're both tired, but eyeing one another warily.  I hope they don't become too much of a distraction.

CNN keeps showing clusters of people in our nation's capitol who have gathered for today's events.  I'm not sure how I feel about the two young women who were just bragging about having circumvented the security checkpoints.  I mean, should we really televise that security could be so easily breeched today?  And laugh about it?  It just seems boneheaded to me.

I remember previous inaugurations.  I didn't watch George H.W. Bush's ceremony, though I've seen the swearing-in itself.  I can't honestly recall how much of Bill Clinton's inauguration I watched live, and how much I saw taped, but I recall the sense of excitement and optimism surrounding it.  Boy, that didn't last long, did it?  The only sense I really have about Mr. Clinton's time in office was him being incessantly hounded by Republicans and the media--hardly the spirit of hope that welcomed him to the White House.  George W. Bush's inauguration was divisive because of the nature of the 2000 election.  I, too, felt it was poorly handled, but I accepted it and was ready to accept Mr. Bush.  His attitude in 2004, insisting that the American people had given him a mandate, and that he had "political capital" he intended to spend, came off as snotty to me.  It was even moreso given that the election was close enough that it came down to the state of Ohio.

It's funny; as I finished that paragraph, people on CNN began running down recent inaugurations and the attitudes that welcomed Presidents Reagan and Clinton.  "The national mood begins to change today," said the commentator.  It's hard for me to keep a focus running throughout this blog because mornings are especially rough on us Crohnies and today has been no exception.  I can't imagine braving the crowd in D.C. just to see Mr. Obama on an outdoors monitor screen.  I'm grateful to live in a small town in Kentucky, because it means I'll never be inconvenienced by such events!

I remember in 2001, when the Clinton staff looted and trashed the White House as President Bush was sworn in and I can't help but wonder what Mr. Bush and his staff are doing at this moment.  I sincerely hope that when they eventually build the George W. Bush Presidential Library that they sell The Pet Goat in the giftshop.  I will make the trip just to buy a copy there.

Speaking of presidents, I should really get to either finishing or at least returning Ronald Reagan's An American Life to the Oldham County Public Library.  I believe it was due back 12 January (last Monday).  I remember his administration, and have since studied it to some degree.  Reading his own account of how he came into public office--and his attitudes about it--has really shed some light on his administration for me.  I used to think of Mr. Reagan as uncaring about the poor, but I have come to believe that he did not see the potential cruelty of his domestic policies.  I have come to think, instead, that he sincerely believed he was acting to spur people to dig deeper and work harder for themselves, not to fuel the greed that dominated the 1980s, but so that Americans would get back to the work ethic of his father's generation.

David Gergen was on staff for Mr. Reagan (as well as Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton), and now he's on CNN covering Mr. Obama's inauguration.  I found a copy of his Eyewitness to Power on clearance at the University of Louisville bookstore when I was a student there.  I'm glad I bought it, because I greatly enjoyed his perspective on those recent presidencies.  The pre-inauguration sermon should be concluding momentarily, and then Mr. Obama and his entourage will move to the White House for the swearing-in ceremony.  Speaking of which, Mr. Obama is now leaving the church, pausing to hug Pastor T.D. Jakes.

I love that we have such traditions as our presidents attending church prior to the inauguration, or using the same Bible that was used to swear in Abraham Lincoln.  Gergen is now praising Mr. Bush for a classy hand-off, and rightly so.  Unless, of course, as all eyes are on Mr. Obama, he and his staff are stealing things from the White House.  I think if it were me, I'd have to at least prank the incoming president somehow.  Maybe I'd leave nothing but empty pens on the desk in the Oval Office.

The Bidens have arrived at the White House, and the Obamas are next.  Mr. and Mrs. Bush are greeting the Obamas now, and are expected to have coffee together.  Wow, how fortunate to be the two marines posted outside the White House!  They're clearly flanking the Bushes and Obamas in what is already a historic photograph.  The Bushes and Obamas are expected to share coffee now, and the wicked part of me is wondering if perhaps Mr. Bush has snuck a laxative into Mr. Obama's coffee.  That would be a hell of an Inauguration Day prank, wouldn't it?  While they do that, I think I'm going to sneak into the kitchen and scramble some eggs.

I'm back.  I wonder how much it cost to buy advertising time for inauguration coverage today.  I see Dustin Hoffman in the VIP section on Capitol Hill.  Anderson Cooper is asking why and how Hoffman got to be there.  It's a good question, but it sounded like he was upset.  I just learned from Gergen that it was Ronald Reagan who moved the inauguration ceremony from the East Side of the Capitol Building to the West Side "so he could look toward his beloved California."  I find this kind of minutae fascinating.

I could use a shower.  I think I have time to get it in before Mr. Obama arrives at the Capitol Building.  Somehow, though, it seems appropriate to hold off until we have our new president.  It seems symbolic.  (You'll know, though, that I also held off because I'm lazy.)  I forgot to mention that when I started eating my eggs that both cats stalked me all the way to my chair.  I broke off a piece for each cat, both of whom sniffed and subsequently snubbed them.  Sometimes I think they just want to prove that they can get me to give them food.

CNN just ran a commercial for themselves that they'll "be there to keep [the new administration] honest."  It was followed by a commercial for T-shirts for sale commemorating their own coverage of today's events.  Somehow, it seems disingenuous to make such an objective promise a moment before trying to make money off the same man.  The members of the House of Representatives are filing in now.  Eight minutes from now, the outgoing and incoming presidents are expected to depart the White House.  It might take more than that just to get all the representatives to their seats!

I'm left-of-center; I identify myself as liberal, but the extremity of many on the left make me wonder how liberal I really am.  In my own taste and decision making, I'm actually right-of-center; I just happen to believe in the freedom to make choices--even those I wouldn't make, myself.  I was born near the end of the Carter administration, so I have no recollection of his presidency.  My first president, really, was Ronald Reagan.  For all the criticisms I have of his domestic policies, he will always be my standard of a president.  He always seemed reassuring to me, and in control.  I know, it's easy to characterize him as Mrs. Reagan's puppet, but he always came off to me as a man in charge.

He set the tone for the entire country, and while I recall public criticism of Mr. Reagan, I only recall professional criticism; it never seemed to be personal with him.  Gergen described how Reagan would regularly meet after business hours with many in Congress for drinks at the White House, even those he had fought with all day long.  Come 5:00, it was time to relax and set aside the business of the day.  Somehow, that attitude disappeared during the Bush administration that followed it, because anti-Clinton attitudes seemed to be round-the-clock.  I hope that Mr. Obama can resurrect some of that Reagan-era civility in D.C.  Our politicians have gotten ahead in their campaigns by demonizing their opponents, and so long as they stick to professional criticisms I think that's all fair.  It really needs to end on Election Day, though, because it seems to distract and interfere too often with getting things done.

There's a moment.  Who would have ever suspected we'd see Arnold Schwarzenegger--as governor of California--attend the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as President of the United States?  My country has come a long way, even just in my lifetime.  Seeing Ah-nold has somehow personalized this unique moment for me.  In my childhood, Arnold was an action movie star and the president was an elderly white man.  Today, Arnold is governor of one of the largest states in the Union and we're little more than an hour away from inaugurating a young man of mixed racial heritage as president.  Truly remarkable.

I just watched Barack Hussein Obama take the Presidential Oath of Office.  He struggled with the words.  I smiled, because I remember how nervous I was when I took my wedding vows and I suspect butterflies very similar to those were swarming the President's stomach.  He is now giving his first address to the Union as President, "humble...grateful...mindful of the sacrifices born by our ancestors."

CNN asked us to photograph the exact moment that President Obama took the oath of office, so I did.  I look horrible, from needing a shower and taking the photo myself, but there it is.

Mr. Obama has given us an amalgamation of Lincoln's "A House Divided" and Roosevelt's "Walk Softly but Carry a Big Stick" remarks, updated for the 21st Century.  This was no ordinary Inaugural Address.  This was a call to action, the kind of pep talk a coach gives the team at half time during a championship when they're down, but within striking distance of victory.  Mr. Obama has effectively called on us to dig ourselves into the trenches and fight for the peace and prosperity we so desire.  Mr. President, lead and we shall follow.