This is what the United States of America does best. Today is inauguration day — with all the ceremony, symbolism and circumstance that Americans can muster in the midst of whatever happens to trouble us at the time This is the very best of what we show the world and what we have been envied for, ever since the end of the Civil War. We transfer the power of the highest office in the land peacefully and without a fuss, without arresting the previous guy for corruption — or shooting him dead.
It is amazing and nearly unique in the history of republican democracy. I am happy today that we are continuing the tradition, despite disagreements and debt ceilings, guns and gaffes, jobs and jingoism.
As Matthew Rozsa points out in his brilliant 11-part opus on inauguration speeches of presidents past, there is something about the occasion itself that allows an incoming president to inspire and a re-elected president either to brag about his achievements or to fortify the country for a trial we are about to undergo (e.g. FDR prior to WWII). Inaugural speeches are different from State of the Union speeches for this reason, alone. They are the president’s personal statement, rather than the chief executive’s official statement of what’s going on — or going to happen — during his watch. We already know that President Obama is one hellacious orator and I expect he’ll rise to the occasion of re-inauguration on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The first Obama administration actually expired at noon on Sunday, the 20th, which is why there was a private swearing-in, yesterday. It is reported that upon taking the oath, Sasha Obama congratulated her dad with, “Good job, Dad…you didn’t mess up.”
This pleases me because I like that the Obama girls rib their father on public occasions (I would never have dared to do that), but also because in the midst of the pomp and bustle, America took thought for continuity and made certain that the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed — nothing lapsed.
Here’s something else I’m totally tickled about: The parade. I love inaugural parades. I love that presidents and first ladies get out of their limousines and walk for a bit to wave at the crowd. I love that every state contributes some wonderful band, float or exhibition. There is a special one this year, from Little Rock Central High School, in Little Rock, Arkansas — the Marching Band. This story appeared last night on NBC Nightly News. Watch … it’s worth it to remember what happened in 1959 at Little Rock Central High and to see how the Little Rock Nine are supporting the band and the efforts to bring diversity and harmony to Arkansas.