While one could say that every inauguration is historic, one could also argue that today’s was maybe a little more so than most. The United States of America inaugurated her first African-American President. And, while much could be said about Barack Obama’s mother being white and his father being black … I think we’d all agree that we’re more than halfway there.
I have a lot of reservations about this President. We still know so little about President Obama that he’s almost a blank slate. I still think he lacks a lot of experience that would help in in the job, but he’s there for better or worse, and so we should not but wish him good luck and God speed. But this post is not entirely about President Obama.
It’s about the inauguration, and the coverage of the event.
I tuned in late … right around noon … because I had work to get done searching for a job. I wanted to get a good morning in, and I did, sending out one (electronic) resume and arranging for a couple of meetings later this week. So, while Mr. Obama officially became President at noon, as is prescribed by the Constitution, he didn’t take the oath of office until around 12:15, I guess. I really wasn’t watching the clock.
President Obama’s inauguration speech was pretty classic Obama. He was fairly harsh towards the policies of President Bush, but not of the man himself. That’s OK. But he also said words to the effect that the time of partisanship is Washington is over. “Time to put aside childish things”, he said at one point in the speech. A solid idea, and effective rhetoric … but rhetoric we’ve all heard before, in inaugural addresses and State of the Union speeches and campaign speeches at least since I’ve been paying attention … and that’s 30+ years. And I will say this, President Obama, if you truly want to end partisanship in Washington, then you HAVE to start at the doors of Senators Harry Reed and Diane Feinstein and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Yes, talk to the Republicans, who have shown a great proclivity to roll over and cave when they’re in the minority, but START with the congressional leaders of your own party. Only by changing the culture in those offices, where the minority has been consistently stifled, can you begin to change the culture of partisanship in Washington. Compromise does not mean everything the way your side wants it. Compromise means everybody gives some, and everybody gets some. There is certainly room for good, healthy, vigorous debate. Not so much for petty sniping and “my way or no way” thinking. That’s what causes gridlock, and for once, gridlock is exactly what we don’t need.
Good luck with that.
Then, too, and I didn’t actually see or hear this happen, but the commentators said that when President Bush and Vice President Cheney came to take their seats … they were booed. Maybe only by a few … but they were booed.
I don’t care who you are, or how you feel about policies or politics. No American should boo a sitting President in his last few minutes in office. If you want to change the culture of partisanship in Washington, President Obama, start with a repudiation of whom ever booed in this peaceful change of power. It’s disgraceful, and thinking people would never do such a thing. Shame on you, if you booed, or would have.
But I think what really, really disappointed me was the news coverage and analysis. Following the swearing in, and the speech, the endless analysis began. I was watching CNN. Wolf Blitzer sounded like he was about to scream like a schoolgirl and swoon like a teenager at a Beatles concert. He took great pains to say that the helicopter taking (now former) President Bush to Andrews Airforce base would be referred to as “Executive One” rather then “Marine One” … because “Marine One” is only used when a PRESIDENT is on board, and Mr. Bush is now a FORMER PRESIDENT. He made the same point about the aircraft that would not be referred to as ‘Airforce One” … for the same reason. I know that some of CNN’s audience might need that kind of spoon feeding, but it just seemed like he was happy … almost giddy … about the whole thing. We know who you were rooting for, Wolf. It’s been apparent since July. Your guy won. Try being a journalist again.
Getting fed up with Wolf, I switched over to CBS, where the coverage was a little less lopsided, until, as Executive One made a pass over the Mall, and one of the commentators (forgive me for not having names … they weren’t on the screen and not voices I recognized) said something about some people cheering as the helicopter flew over … a sign of respect for the former President. Another commentator allowed as how some might be cheering because they were happy to see him go.
I was simply appalled. There might have been one or two in the audience with that thought … but I was simply appalled.
So I switched it off, and went back to my job search.
I had an occasion, late in his second term, to shake hands with President Bill Clinton. I didn’t vote for him. That’s my right as an American. But on Christmas Eve, I was out picking up some last minute things, and the President was shopping in the same little jewelry store in Union Station. The Secret Service originally cordoned off the entire wing of the station, but eventually, knowing others had last minute things to buy, started allowing us in in dribs and drabs. Bill Clinton could command a room, and he was standing near one of the display cases in Appalachian Spring. I approached him, extended my hand, and said simply “Merry Christmas, Mr. President, it’s an honor”. And it was. Regardless of how I personally felt about him, or his policies, he’s the President for all the people, and it is an honor to shake his hand. Not boo, or ignore him like he’s not in the room.
So, good luck and God speed, Mr. Obama. I hope my concerns are unfounded, and that you’re able to turn the economy around and not lead us too much further down a path of bigger government. Maybe you can change my mind. But if you really want to start to change the culture of partisanship in Washington, start when you look in the mirror … start when visit the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue … I’d say start with CNN … but they may be beyond help.
But make that economy thing quick. I’m still looking for a job.