The President needs a good second half. He was kind of half-whooped in the first half of his presidency, but if he comes out of the inauguration like Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens came out of the locker room at half-time yesterday, he may do okay.
James Taylor was too brief and crunchy for my taste (I wanted something a little more martial), but the President’s speech held my attention, although the ending wasn’t as rousing as I would have liked. Why do they all have to end the same way, “And God bless these United States of America”? It’s time for a change.
A few notable moments:
They decided not to wave the red flag of the President’s middle name in front of the birthers. At his first inauguration, the President was sworn in as Barack Hussein Obama. Today, he was Barack H. Obama.
The speech immediately confirmed the strength of our democracy, and reminded us that we do not have to be divided by the origin of our names. Yet the President’s name has been a source of divisiveness, and I have to assume his middle Islamic-sounding name was withheld so it wouldn’t divide.
We were reminded that to be an American, all you have to do is pledge your allegiance to an idea, and then live your life accordingly. Well, live your life and do the work, because the President was adamant about citizens working to make the ideals manifest, to bring the self-evident truths into reality. “We must secure these gifts,” he said, ever the community organizer.
He acknowledged our cultural bias against central authority, but then warned us that our ancestors did not “Trade the tyranny of a king for the privileges of a few.”
And then he sang of the great accomplishments of the central authority in America—the Federal Government: railroads, highways, schools, Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and laws that make competition thrive and help protect the vulnerable. These things do not weaken us, he said. They free us to take risk.
He did say that government is not a panacea, but then insisted that it is only through collective action that we can form a more perfect Union.
I liked the refrain—the subtle refrain—of We the People, implying that we are part of a collective. We are not all stand-alone heroes, he was saying. We need to make decisions and take action as a group. It’s the Democratic message: You’re not on your own. We’re in this together.
In fact, inclusiveness was a major theme. He used metonymy when he spoke of Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall, each symbolic of an expanding circle of inclusion.
By the way, I had to look up Seneca Falls. At first I thought it might have referred to an event that symbolized the inclusion of Native Americans into the American family, but no, that’s not what it meant. Seneca Falls was the town in upstate New York where Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first Womens’ Rights Convention in 1848.
I like the section where he said we don’t have to argue about the role of government for all time; we only need to decide how Government should act in our time.
He was in good voice. He paused between thoughts and phrases—he’s the master of the pause. His voice is a flexible instrument, capable of solemnity, humor, anger, and emphasis: he knows how to punctuate spoken words.
He spoke to Congress and those citizens who have been passionate supporters. To Congress he said, “My oath is the same as yours, and we don’t take oaths to fight for party and faction.”
To the citizens who support his agenda, he said, “Raise up your voices, gin up the airwaves, the Internet, and the Social Media. We’ve got a fight on our hands.”
And then came the ending that failed to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, that failed to invoke his established theme, that We the People are one body; that out of many, we become one; that we are not individual grains of wheat, but rather a whole loaf, inseparable, one from the other, leavened by our faith, our reason, and our deeds.