Monday, January 21, 2013

Inauguration Day - Exciting as 2008? Maybe/Maybe Not

So with those 35 words, Barack Obama, begins his second term as President of the United States. He is the first Democratic president to be elected and re-elected with more than 50% of the votes of the electorate, since Franklin Roosevelt (he's also the first president to be take the oath of office four times since Roosevelt - due to Chief Justice John Roberts' flubbing the lines in 2008, resulting in a 'retake' later). 

President Obama officially took the oath of office 12 noon Sunday (he is Constitutionally required to take the oath on January 20). He will take the office ceremoniously today. 

No matter who is president, I tend to like inaugurations. It is a demonstration to the world that political leadership can change in an orderly, peaceful process. It is a time when we get a view of a newly elected president as actually 'presidential'. The inauguration speech, is a glimpse into his view of the world and the office he has just now assumed. It is a very special day in the life of our country. 

But is this inauguration day as special as 2008? 

After all, Obama is now not only the first black president. He is the first black president to win re-election. 

In 2008, an estimated 2 million people withstood freezing temperatures to witness see a truly historic event: a black man taking the oath of office and become known as 'the most powerful man in the world'.

But is it as special this time?

It is predicted that less than half as many in attendance for the ceremony this year. And there are citizens who are feeling it to be far less special than the historic occasion of the first inauguration.

This is good news and good news.

This portends that the country has grown accustomed to even the optics of a black man being President. The 'novelty', as it were, has worn off. And whatever the varying degrees of discomfort on the part of many Americans, there are millions who will grow up taking for granted that a black man can be President of our country. It will make it easier to think of those optics as not being 'novel'. A woman. A Hispanic. A minority female. The door of our collective imagination is now open and will not close. And we take it for granted now. This is a good thing.

It could also mean, that among even Obama supporters, as proud as we are of this achievement, for our country and for him personally. We are now beginning to look at him as President. Which mean everyone has heightened expectations. There is no previous administration on which to blame the country's woes. Congresses' intransigence is no longer a surprise. There will be parameters on the 'romance' of the visual of Obama in the Oval office.

But now we will look for him to lead. And, perhaps, there is a better understanding on the part of supporters, that they will have to provide him a daily constituency for their agenda. Whatever his 'base wants, they will have to, as it is said to be said by Franklin Roosevelt, 'Go out and organize and make me do it', whatever 'it' is.

That's good news too. Because seeing Obama as president only serves to make him a more powerful president.

I was recently asked whether or not I was more or less excited about the second inauguration, than I was the first time. I replied that I may be different, but I've always viewed the President as a politician. As such, he has to have people who can provide him political cover in order to be effective. The degree to which Obama has unfinished business from his first term, is greatly related to the degree to which the issue interests who voted him in, saw him as 'the One' carrying their water for him and holding him almost solely responsible for carrying it out.

Maybe the lack of euphoria is related to the fact that not only has recovery from 2008's Great Recession, been slower than everyone has liked; or that the exposure of America's ugly racist side is now known - even with a black president; or that we still have a war, costly with blood and treasure and an unsettled world which feels as if it is growing more unstable everyday. Perhaps their is a sobering thought that Obama has made a history in which we are all responsible to participate. His oath of office is now a solemn oath among us all that we must learn how to take advantage of the victories he's able to win in the halls of government that many of us will never see. Maybe it is the growing realization that he is now our president, whether you voted for him or not.

This too is a good thing.

If neither of these reasons true. Then it means we're simply not paying attention.

And then we're really in trouble.