12:12 pm: That was a clever speech. It was a statement of principles with an unabashed Liberal bent, it validated the President’s 1st term accomplishments, it set-out the highlights of his intended 2nd term agenda, and it laid the blame for partisan gridlock at Congressional Republicans’ feet for refusing to work with him while maintaining neutral language. Being President truly means you have the 1st, middle, and last word in American politics–provided you know what to say. Our President does.
12:08 pm: Perhaps that’s not fair. Calls for non-discrimination against gays in the workplace and in marriage, criticism of legalistic voter disenfranchisement, and immigration reform that allows undocumented immigrants to remain in the country were at least as resounding in applause.
12:07 pm: Equal pay was a far bigger applause line than the President’s commitment to World peace. Heh.
12:05 pm: “Every corner of the globe” is a funny phrase, don’t you think? A globe has no corners; it is continuous and curves.
The World has no edges.
12:02 pm: The President has taken the opportunity to explicitly attack the idea that Americans who receive Federal assistance are “takers.” The interesting thing about this reference to the recent Republican political lexicography is that few are likely to remember where and why and by whom the term was initially used–but they will remember the President rejecting it in this speech.
11:59 am: I have just noticed the departure in President Obama’s tone from so many other speeches. Sometimes we hear a more-serene, academic President Obama. Today, he’s shouting. It’s graceful shouting, not unlike Martin Luther King’s speech on the Mall 50 years ago, but it’s shouting nonetheless.
11:57 am: “For Americans can no more meet the challenges of today’s world alone than our enlisted men could have met the forces of Fascism with muskets…” Put that in your tricolor hat and let it steep, Tea Partiers!
11:55 am: “…for while these truths are self-evident, they are not self-executing…” President Obama leads the political party that accepts that the country doesn’t run itself. In national politics that is a mild exaggeration, and a revealing one.
11:53 am: President Obama’s speech begins.
11:50 am: President Obama has taken oath (without incident). Chief Justice John Roberts took a lot of flack for the stumble during the 2009 Inaugural reading of the oath, but it was actually a joint stumble, caused not so much by the Chief Justice committing the Oath of Office to memory, but by failure of the 2 men to agree on the cadence of the Oath. So, President Obama and Chief Justice Roberts continue to be bound together as collaborators in controversy.
11:39 am: “There’s something within me that holds the reigns,
There’s something within me that banishes pain,
There’s something within me I can’t explain,
But there’s something within, America,
There’s something within.”
Why does this rub me the wrong way? Oh, that’s right: I have Buddhist metaphysical sentiments, and they are irked by this reference to a core of self that increases confusion…Eh, I suppose I can abide it, you know, in the spirit of national unity.
11:34 am: The next speaker is a civil rights activist. Interestingly, she speaks not of humankind, but of “mankind and womankind.”
11:30 am: Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) dismisses talk that says America’s problems are politically impossible. Optimism is perhaps the cheap virtue of American political speeches, but then look at the President who sits directly behind him now. Yes, I am a believer in this man.
11:25 am: Vice President Biden whispered something to President Obama, and now the latter is smiling tensely, almost repressing a laugh. You know that thing about Vice President Biden that people speculated was bad for the Obama Administration? It seems it is in fact good for Barack Obama.
11:23 am: “Barack H. Obama.” “H” for “How ’bout that?” Huh. Well, I guess you’re expected to do something with it…Have I not heard this one before?
11:10 am: I’m parroting CNN now, but it seems to me that it warrants mention: Barack and Michelle Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sacha, really do comport themselves with exceptional poise under public scrutiny. It’s proper not to make political hay out of one’s family, but President Obama’s critics rarely acknowledge the exemplary nature of the family he and his wife have raised.
11:08 am: The Liberal Ironist is fully-aware that at this moment he is facilitating excessive political navel-gazing. The President’s noon speech isn’t going to make or break the next 4 years for him, the next 4 years will make or break the next 4 years for him. Instantaneous media, including social media but as usual in particular the proliferation of the 24-hour news networks and their punditry, has all but removed clinical distance from political speeches.
It may be the constant chatter of the pundits helps at a time like this, actually. They keep the focus on the policy telegraph contained in political speeches. Amid the fixation on the First Lady’s coat–in good ironic fashion I simply cannot understand it–and all the odd, grave talk about how this Inauguration speech must be compared to all the others–when President Obama has already served 1 term and been re-elected–we have political junkies such as myself who nonetheless watch the President’s speech out of fascination with the prospective glimpse at political…whatever. That’s it, it’s whatever. We all want to be ahead of the curve, so we dwell on much-anticipated speeches in the hope that it will give us a clue to what lies ahead in American politics. Very little provides us with such information. The upcoming 2013 State of the Union Address will certainly provide better clues than this speech.
10:56 am: The National Mall is covered with a sea of American flags, President Obama, his vivacity somewhat diminished by thought and care but his head unbowed, walks through Congress with a lot of Congressional leaders on his way to his 2nd Inaugural. A stony-faced former President Bill Clinton and former First Lady and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pass through the Capitol Building on their way to the swearing-in ceremony.
“Fact: A black president has never lost reelection,” a friend said with a mix of gravity and irony, noting all at once the novelty and the political success of Barack Hussein Obama as our 1st Black President. (“His middle name is Hussein?”) The January 2009 crowds of over 1 million have sadly thinned…to merely over 800,000. The expectations of a post-partisan future of hope and change have tragically given way to what is now considered possible–entitlement reform, general deficit-reduction, new regulations on gun possession and sales, immigration reform. The optimism of the President’s 1st term could not hold-up in light of what policies could actually be achieved–the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Stimulus, the Bailout of Detroit, Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (hate crimes protections for gays and lesbians), the extension of unemployment insurance, ground-breaking provision of Federal funding for stem cell research, reforms that expanded access and lowered interest and principal repayments on student loans, massive health care reform through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the successful building of an international coalition to impose harsh new sanctions on Iran for its rogue nuclear program, the Dodd-Frank financial reform, new energy efficiency regulations, the New START Treaty with Russia, the integration of gays into the US Military, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, new FDA food safety regulations, the payroll tax holiday, respectful forebearance while presiding over historic revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, initiating the operation that killed the terrorist Osama bin Laden, aggressive and unrelenting military action against the al-Qaeda terrorist network around the World, the successful intervention to overthrow Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and help Libyans form a government for themselves, historic inclusion of labor-protection agreements in new free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea, the ending of the Iraq War, investment liberalization for small businesses through the JOBS Act, the historic upholding of Health Care Reform by the US Supreme Court in NFIB v. Sebelius, and the setting of permanent new tax rates in the face of fanatical opposition from Congressional Conservatives.
OK, President Obama has been fantastic. No President is perfect–he is after all a human being shepherding other human beings in what can be a dangerous and is always a troublesome World–but President Obama is not just an historic President, he is a great one, a good mix of political prudence, moral compass, and that sense of pageantry. The Liberal Ironist, happy to return after a busy holiday season, will have a brief live blog of a hard-fought and well-earned 2nd Presidential Inauguration.
After all, President Obama has done some amazing things, but how’s today’s speech? How do the shadows on the back wall of that cave look?