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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Inauguration Day Madman

January 22, 2009


Just What Will They Talk About?

Certainly the two topics on Right-Wing radio today will be Caroline Kennedy's withdrawal from the race to fill the New York Senate seat now vacated by the confirmation of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State; and the re-oath of President Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. Without hearing a word or seeking a soundbite prior to my writing this piece, I sit and wonder what it will sound like.

First to Kennedy: There is no shortage of those on the Right who hate anything Kennedy. That being said, no one out there believes the reason Caroline Kennedy dropped out of the race was due to the concern she has for her Uncle Teddy (and I say that without doubting her love for the elder Kennedy statesman - but not much has changed in his position since he was diagnosed with brain cancer). The writing appeared to be on the wall that New York Governor David Paterson wasn't going to appoint Kennedy to the spot she threw her hat into the ring for.

There are no shortage of qualified people to take Clinton's place in New York State. And while Kennedy certainly has the pedigree and the smarts to be able to grow into the job, it became real obvious real quick by her mishandling of the New York and national media that she wasn't ready for the spotlight... yet.

On CNN's morning shoe this morning, the hosts spoke of the fact that Paterson's thought process for New York's Junior Senate seat had to include the fact that a woman was leaving it and, possibly, a woman should be the new appointee. Among the choices they put out there were Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who became a US Congresswoman in the wake of her husband's death and son's injury by Colin Ferguson on the Long Island Railroad; and Randi Weingarten, the United Federation of Teachers' Labor Union President.

Then, of course, the same hostess who claimed Barack Obama hadn't done enough less than 24 hours into his presidency stated that Paterson might be considering the appointment of an Hispanic to the office because there were none in the Senate. I bet Mel Martinez (REPUBLICAN-FL) and Bob Menendez (DEMOCRAT-NJ) were surprised to hear that.

(Question: Is it so hard to get people to broadcast the news who actually have read a newspaper?)

The Senate seat Clinton vacates will be a hard one to keep regardless of who gets it (I'm putting my money on Andrew Cuomo, the current New York State Attorney General and son of former Governor Mario). Cuomo has both the pedigree and, more importantly, the experience for the job, although Rep. Maloney would be just as good a choice.

New York State's Senate situation leaves the state in a curious position. Whereas an appointment is permanent, it isn't for the length of the remaining tern unless that term is two years of less. In Menendez' case, he left the House of Representatives and moved over to the Senate for a year until now-Governor Jon Corzine's elected term in that house was up (2005-2006). He did win the seat outright in 2006. Paterson's appointee will serve two years (until 2010) and then run for the remainder of Clinton's term (due to expire in 2012). In 2012, the appointee would run for his or her own full six0year term. That's three elections in three consecutive federal election cycles.

And if that weren't enough, in 2010 there will be two US Senate seats up for re-election: Charles Schumer, the Senior Senator from The Empire State will be running as well.

President Barack Obama has taken a new oath of office. after Chief Justice John Roberts decision to wing it on January 20th (and get it wrong), the new President and his staff thought it best to get the oath right. In a small swearing-in ceremony took place in the White House map room without video cameras or a bible for Obama to put his hand upon. Media outlets immediately filed a protest that their cameras weren't allowed into the room with just an audio and still pictures being the only proof of the event.

Certainly this is fuel for the Righties fire's flame which they will gladly fan. First, there was no bible. Surely the Muslim rumors will begin to swirl upon hearing that. The Lincoln Bible Obama had his hand on will make no difference to those on Fox News, New York's WABC Radio and other outlets.

Next they'll complain about openness. Whereas former President Bush would have used the occasion to strut his do-nothing feathers one more time (had he had a second chance at taking the oath), Obama decision to get it over with without any more pomp and circumstance has to, in their world of spin, been an attempt at closing the door.

If one doubts that the Right Wing will do and say things along these lines, think back to what they did when it became apparent that a Black man named Barack Obama was going to be the front-runner for the US presidency. In spite of his obvious citizenship they actually filed a lawsuit against his being President due to his foreign birth, even though all of the proof that Obama was born in the US. No matter where he was born, he would still be a US citizen due to his mother's US citizenship. But regardless of that, it still became the fodder for the Righties to feed to their zombie-like followers.

The reason why all of this is relevant for those of us in the center or on the Left to talk about is this: We saw what can happen when rumors and innuendo run rampant from the Right and permeate the real news and the American psyche. It helped defeat both Al Gore and John Kerry and left us with eight years of the horrific disaster known as George W. Bush.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2009 Journal Register Newspapers, Inc.

Emotional events are difficult to characterize. We use the same adjectives again and again, in greater and greater superlatives. Yet they ring hollow because they are in the end just words and what we feel is so much more, so inexpressible.

So it was with the Inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president.

The most commonly heard question on Jan. 20 was “Did you ever think you would live to see this day, when an African American was sworn in as president?”

The question was almost rhetorical–no one said yes.

Each of us brought our own personal history to Obama’s inauguration based on our race, age, gender, class status. Each of us felt different emotions welling up as the day progressed. But over everything floated the collective yet singular emotion that emanated from the Washington Mall: joy.

Joy is one of those feelings we rarely have after the age of five or six. It doesn’t come readily to those who have dealt with life’s harsher moments or who have gained the perspective that comes with adulthood. Excitement is almost always tempered in some way and joy rarely has the purity it had for us as children.

I felt joy on Inauguration Day and I saw joy resonate through the crowd of nearly two million people who braved the bitter cold for hours just to be in the presence of history. It was palpable, that joy. It was like a sound wave without the sound. It was that other thing we rarely experience as adults: magic.

There were moments within the moments: Aretha Franklin’s piercing and soulful rendition of “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” Rev. Joseph Lowery’s resounding chorus of “amens,” Itzak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma, the bank of former presidents looking on behind sweet little Sasha and Malia Obama, Elizabeth Alexander’s rich and complex inaugural poem. And then there was Barack Obama himself, taking the oath and giving his address.

Like many for whom politics runs through the blood, I wanted a lot from that speech. Two days before the Inauguration Malia Obama said to her father about his speech, “First African American president. Better be good.”

It was good. It was solid and eloquent and demanding of us as a nation and of the collective “us” that was watching. It had echoes of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “we have nothing to fear but fear itself” as well as of John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

But it was most like Bill Clinton’s first inaugural address, which began, “This ceremony is held in the depth of winter. But, by the words we speak and the faces we show the world, we force the spring. A spring reborn in the world's oldest democracy, that brings forth the vision and courage to reinvent America.”

Obama’s speech resonated with the urgency of reinventing America and American democracy once more after eight years of war and terrorism, torture and evisceration of the Constitution.

Obama delivered the speech with his characteristic fervor. He referenced a “nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights” and then went on to explain why that was a misreading of our nation and ourselves.

Obama declared, “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

When you looked out over the huge sea of people, you felt the possibility of reinvention as a nation, you felt the possibility of truly letting go of all those petty grievances. Obama said, “Greatness is never a given. It must be earned.”

Obama looked directly at America as he said that–because it is we who have to re-gain our place in the world. This is not a job solely for the new president and his cabinet. We citizens have been called to service, as well.

Much of the discourse surrounding Obama’s election and inauguration has been about race. There have been a lot of comparisons made between him and other presidents as well as to other civil rights figures. There has been a constant reiterating of “first African American president,” “first black president.”

But the fact is, there are no real comparisons. Barack Obama is not a child of 1960s black radicals nor a child of the inner city. He’s not the child of wealth and privilege like George W. Bush was, nor is he the child of poverty like Bill Clinton was. He grew up in Kansas, Indonesia and Hawaii. He went to good schools. He is the first American president from a multi-ethnic and multi-racial family, with a white mother, African father, Indonesian half-sister, white, black and Asian in-laws.

Biracial, with a multi-ethnic family, he is the living emblem of the melting pot most of us were taught America is.

He is America.

There’s been a lot of hyperbole about Obama since he first began running. Right-wing pundits even referred to the Inauguration as the “Immaculation” or the “Messiahanation.” But the fact is, Obama is only human and his speech reflected his humanness. He made it clear that the job of getting America back on its feet must be taken on by all of us and that we are all, to a certain extent, responsible for where we are today–at war, in debt, flailing.

There were the few who felt the need to nit-pick the speech and who actually seemed to want Obama to fail. There will always be people like that, and perhaps we need them to keep things focused and remind us that even in the midst of light, there’s always something dark lurking in the corner that we must be wary of.

But the day was still about light–about a great dark cloud lifting in the cold winter wind. It was about change in the air. Change that we don’t have to convince ourselves to believe in, because it already happened at noon Jan. 20.

At dusk on Inauguration Day I was putting out my trash. An African- American man of about 60 was coming up the block and I called out to him, “Great day for America, isn’t it?”

He stopped and told me that he was ashamed to admit it, but he had never voted before this election. Ever. “More than 35 years and I never voted,” he said, shaking his head. “But I couldn’t miss this opportunity.” He told me he made his 18 year-old nephew vote, too. “I should have before this, but now...” The emotion was raw on his face. We shook hands and he walked away.

Beyonce sang Etta James’s “At Last” for the opening dance between the President and Michelle Obama at the first inaugural ball. The singer spoke to ABC news immediately afterward.

Her eyes were sparkling with tears and she said how honored she was to be there, to be part of this history. She said of Obama, “He makes me want to be smarter, be more involved, be a better American.”

That was tone that got set on Inauguration Day: that we all need to live up to our potential–individual and collective. That as a nation we can and must do better. That we need to rise up and step up and get it together and be the Americans we used to be before 9/11 happened and we lost our way from fear and anger and bad leadership.

My parents were civil rights workers and I grew up surrounded by some of the great men and women of that era–ordinary men and women who became great leaders of necessity, because we were at a crossroads as a nation and change had to happen.

I wish my parents could have witnessed the Inauguration of America’s first black president. I wish that they and every other man and woman who faced down the injustice of that era could all have been there as witness.

But I was a witness, and you were a witness and our children were all witnesses. We all saw how in the span of only 44 years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act, in the 40 years since Dr. Martin Luther King said he had been to the mountaintop and he had seen the promised land and that he might not get there with us, but we would get there, that a black man is now living in the White House built by black American slaves.

There are dark days ahead for America and most of us know that and are dreading the loss of jobs, homes, health care. The war in Iraq will shift to the war in Afghanistan. But we have a new leader, we have a new opportunity to reinvent ourselves as Americans and as a nation and we have a real chance to achieve the thing we all most want: change.

On Jan. 20, at the cold but sun-drenched Capitol, we turned a page in our history. We must set ourselves to do what our new president has exhorted us to do: sacrifice for our future as a nation, stand up and do not falter. Remember that with citizenship comes responsibility.

Change is in the air. Now it is up to each of us to breathe deep and take it in.

In response to, "That day came shortly after Election Day when the DOW dropped 500 points and the Reichwing pundits blamed it on ... Obama. At that point it became official... everything that goes wrong from now on is Obama's fault, Robert Scardapane writes:

Yes but did you notice that the market came right back up on the first day of Obama's Presidency? It has nothing to do with Obama and everything to do with business news. On the day that it went down, there were poor earnings report from State St. Bank (considered to be a conservative bank). On the day it went up, there were good earnings report from IBM. Politicians don't make / break markets, business does.

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-Noah Greenberg