I enjoyed watching and listening to the inauguration of President Obama this time even more than the first time. In 2009, we knew we were seeing a history-making event. His election both represented and caused a developmental leap in the American psyche. I never thought his re-election would be easy. I never took it for granted. I didn’t know how good his team was—in part, because the mainstream media missed the story of Obama’s campaign prowess. The mass media was as bad as the GOP in figuring out the Obama game plan. The America we saw on TV today is Obama’s America. I can imagine what the pictures would have been like if the election result had gone the other way.
I heard a lot of “we” and “together” and “common” in the President’s speech, which is a good thing. His “We, the People” refrain made me think of Chicago’s favorite poet Carl Sandburg writing “The People, Yes.” Speaking of Sandburg, and Whitman, Richard Blanco’s inaugural poem had the democratic vistas of those two giants. You can read his poem here. The President’s speech is one of those compositions that gets better the more you listen to it or read it. Hearing it for the first time, I admired the rhetoric and some nice turns of phrases (“the spare room in Philadelphia” and “From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall,” for example). The ideas were potent, and he delivered the best of the speech with gusto and gumption. The call to move forward together sounded loud and clear. He demonstrated that the election was consequential; it was a statement about who we want to be as a nation. The balance tipped his way, but it was close, and those votes that went to Mitt Romney must be weighed in all policy debates. I was glad to hear the shout out for Science in the call to arms for confronting climate change. I would like to have heard more about economic development—I know it was in there, but those passages didn’t rise above the rest. Interestingly, Richard Blanco’s catalogue of jobs and workers made the case more expressively than did the president about the centrality of “good jobs at good wages,” in the words of former Governor Mike Dukakis. President Obama reaffirmed the American social contract today. He put working people over plutocrats and community over the lone cowboy.
The music was fabulous. A tabernacle choir from Brooklyn, Kelly Clarkson, James Taylor, Beyonce’—accompanied by the U.S. Marine Corps Band. The national mall and white stone buildings of Washington, D.C., looked spectacular in the morning sun. The Obama family spoke volumes about our country’s possibilities just by standing there.
It was a wonderful event to witness. Even U.S. House Speaker John Boehner appeared to be moved by the majesty of the occasion. Vice President Biden couldn’t be contained on the parade route, running from side to side to greet and grab people of all ages. It was good to see so many smiles in one place. There must have been some Baltimore Ravens fans in the crowd still smiling from their team’s smack-down of Tom Brady and the Foxboro crew. The MSNBC reporters were giddy, feasting on all the progressive-ness that their “Lean Forward” theme could hold. They were broadcasting a home game.