A Year In New York

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Day 206: Yes, We Must

January 20th · 7 Comments

I got to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. before dawn today with some friends and found a spot near one of the Jumbotrons about halfway between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Shivering be damned; I wanted to see Barack Obama become President Barack Obama and learn what tone he would set for the new age we find ourselves in.

Four and a half hours later Obama walked out into the weak January sunshine. I noticed how deep the lines are etched around his mouth and on his forehead. For the first time I pegged him closer to fifty than forty. He looked like a man who is bearing his burden heavily. This presidency will devour him, I thought. Just the way it did Lincoln.

I expect that an inauguration speech — OK, any political speech these days — will be uplifting and about a better day. Ronald Reagan did that in 1980, when he declared it was “Morning in America” and ushered in our last great political age. Reagan urged us to throw our malaise away and feel good about ourselves again. U.S.A! U.S.A! For years we did just that. Only during the Dubya years did a majority notice that something was deeply, deeply off, a wrongness that no amount of partying or shopping would fix.

Today Obama offered a fix, though not an easy one. Our new president talked about “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.” He chastised that “the time has come to set aside childish things.” This was not a speech meant to make us feel better about ourselves. This was a speech urging us to save our money, help our brothers, do our part. This was a speech about sacrifice.

Obama was our stern (and black!) father, telling us that our days of taking the family Chevy out for joyrides are over. Papa Obama leaned in and looked us straight in the eye. The message of “Grow Up!” could not have been clearer.

The throngs of people around us only occasionally broke into calls of  “O-Ba-Ma! O-Ba-Ma!” but the speechmaker didn’t offer many applause lines. This was an address designed to elicit not exultation, but self-examination. He wanted to let us know that things are bad and only getting worse, and to have any chance of making it through as a great nation, it will be all hands on deck.

If historians look back and try to pinpoint when the “Me Generation” expired, I expect it will be Jan. 20, 2009.

Finally Obama stepped away from the microphone. The cheers ended quickly, even among the African-Americans who had more reasons to celebrate than anyone. People picked up their things, sometimes shaking the hands of the new acquaintances they’d met on the bare lawn, and hobbled off toward the subway on numb feet and in a somber mood.

What courage Obama has. He started a presidency not by making us cheer, but by making us think.

Tags: Deep Thoughts · Politics

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Les // Jan 21, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Very happy to hear you made it to DC for the occasion of a lifetime! You didn’t need the jumbotron, did you? Everyone looks so cold!

  • 2 Marilyn // Jan 22, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Amen! Good summary of the speech and the spark he sent out to each of us. Our choice whether to fan it into action. Or not.

  • 3 Lisa // Jan 22, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    What?! You were here and you didn’t even write? You could have come for hot chocolate and some thawing afterward!

  • 4 Lollie // Jan 24, 2009 at 12:01 am

    Dave! It’s great to ‘see’ you again after all these years. The blog is great. Congrats on the nuptials. Drop me a line when you get a chance.

  • 5 Linda // Jan 27, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Hi Dave-
    I think your observations and comments about Inaguaration Day are some of the best I’ve heard. Thanks for sharing.


  • 6 sam // Jan 29, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    um…what exactly is he proposing?
    that we quit invading foreign countries? nope, the “anti-war” president is sending 30,000 troops to afghanistan.
    that we balance our budget by bringing home the troops we have in 130, yes ONE HUNDRED THIRTY countries, saving $1 trillion per year? Nope, he’s telling us to expect TRILLION DOLLAR deficits for the next couple years. Which means 6. (government “bad news” is usually off by a factor of 3. )
    that we “save our money”? nope, saving money is idiotic when the government (OBAMA’s government) is printing money at a ridiculous rate. Heard about the 850 billion “stimulus” package? Hilarious. This will destroy the value of savings, the same way it has for 4,000 years- making more people dependent on government for their survival, ensuring steady votes to keep the socialists in power. Not to mention that our consumer-based economy exists only because we are encouraged to spend. If people started saving, it would be disastrous. Unfortunately that is what’s going to happen.
    I’m not saying that the republicans are any less corrupt than the dems. They aren’t. The american empire is in decline, and telling us to feel good about ourselves is not going to fix that.

    However, I campaigned for and voted for Ron Paul, and you know he was right because he was so maligned by the mass media. So even though I didn’t “vote for the guy who I thought would win” (which is what ignorant, idiotic americans do these days, as if choosing the winner guarantees that ed mcmahon knocks on your door on some idle saturday morning) I did get my own reward, which is that I can now sit back, point and laugh. 🙂 Keep smiling, everyone!

  • 7 sarka // Jan 31, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Dave, thank you again! for making the inauguration feel closer. Again, Eric and I were on the sea during this important day, and missed the TV coverage, of which there was apparently plenty. It still feels more like a dream to hear in the news the words “president Obama.” Seeing you in your thicker than thick parka does not bring envy, but I sure wish I was there too.

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