My son and I spent the morning with the television on a different channel from our usual. I’d warned him in advance that he wasn’t going to get to watch Curious George or Super Why today, which he took philosophically. Instead of cartoons, he got to watch the United States get a brand new President.
As far as the ceremonies went, it’s the first time I’ve actually watched them, so I don’t have a lot of points of comparison. I chose to turn on NBC because I find Brian Williams much less grating than Katie Couric or Charles Gibson, and I think the Peacock Network did an adequate job. I thought Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery delivered solid prayers. (Did anyone else pick up on Warren weaving the Jewish Shema and the Muslim “God the merciful and compassionate” in? Bet the orthodoxy witch-hunters will hound him for that …) I enjoyed listening to Yo-Yo Ma, as I always do, and wondered what happened to Aretha’s breath support. I had fun trying to identify some of the ex-presidents and ex-VPs (seriously, that’s Walter Mondale?!? Yeah, I guess it has been a while!). And I thought Cali’s own Dianne Feinstein did a great job as the M.C. – possibly her finest work since Moscone and Milk got shot.
I find myself ambivalent over what the next four years will bring.
On the one hand, I didn’t vote for Barack Obama. No, it’s not because I hate him, or I think he will bankrupt the country, or I suspect he’s a closet Muslim, or any of that tripe that’s been rattling around the Internets for the past year. (If you still choose to believe any of those things, that’s your business – just as long as you don’t mind me suggesting that you check yourself into the hospital for a brain implant.) I didn’t vote for him because I disagree with him on pretty much every issue that I can think of. He is certainly the most liberal president we’ve ever had, probably the most liberal president in relation to the rest of the country since Jack Kennedy. He’s already admitted that he won’t be able to keep many of the campaign promises he made. That he has announced that signing the Freedom of Choice Act will be his first move once in office I find galling (and not half as galling as the Supermodel does – in this house, I’m the moderate on abortion). I wouldn’t vote for anyone who has taken the stances Obama has, regardless of their race, creed, color or level of charisma.
But I don’t hate him. Frankly, he seems like a really nice guy. I love the fact that he’s committed to his wife (in contrast to a certain divorced-remarried-and-rumored-to-have-been-dating-a-lobbyist Republican candidate) and has close relationships with his kids. I like that he seems to be willing to hear people out, even on divisive issues, and that he doesn’t strike me as someone who’s afraid to change his mind if he finds his previous position to be a wrong one. Even his admitting publicly that he won’t be able to come through on some campaign promises is an improvement over the weaseling some previous Chief Execs have done on flip-flops. (I’m still a great admirer of George H.W. Bush, but the tap-dance he did after reneging on his “no new taxes” pledge is still an embarrassment.) There’s a lot to be said for a plain-spoken admission of failure.
That’s in addition to all the other things that make him just flat-out likable. His gift for public speaking. His love of basketball and pizza. His air of genuine friendliness – did you see his interactions with Dubya before the latter got onto Marine One for the trip back to Texas? His sense of humor. (Can’t you just see him bringing the MAD Magazine “Obama: the First 100 Minutes” article to a Cabinet meeting and reading it aloud?) His willingness to bring strong personalities into his Cabinet, similar to Abe Lincoln’s “team of rivals” approach. And, candidly, the fact that he’s black – okay, half-black – is a plus as far as I’m concerned, an indicator that Dr. King’s dream, while it hasn’t yet arrived in full, is at least making serious headway. As a great-grandson of Italian immigrants who were called all kinds of vile names when they arrived on these shores, I’ll take whatever progress I can get on issues of race.
To sum it up, as Bob Dole once said about his rival for the presidency, Bill Clinton, “he’s my opponent, not my enemy.” I may not agree with Obama, but he’s the President of the country I live in, and he deserves my respect on that basis if naught else. Maybe that means I can kiss any chance of being a bile-spewing conservative talk show host goodbye. I can live with that.
Will I pray for Barack Obama? You’d better believe it. The Bible is very clear on the subject: “I urge then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior …” (1 Timothy 2:1-3). Card-carrying members of the Religious Right, do you want to please God? Would you like to live a holy and peaceful life? Then pray for Obama. If you’re unwilling to do that, fine – but understand that you are violating the Scripture you claim to follow, and clearly don’t care about God’s will as much as you care about your own political hobbyhorses. Oh, and you’re also denying that people’s hearts can be changed through prayer, because if you really believed that, you’d pray that Barack’s heart would be changed regarding some issues, wouldn’t you? And if you don’t like what I’m saying, tough winkies. Take it up with the Author of Scripture; it’s His idea, I’m just the messenger.
Besides, things might turn out better than we conservatives think – because people can change, even when they’re in the highest office in the land. I recall there was another time in American history when the country was deeply divided, and a liberal president was elected. The Religious Right screamed bloody murder then, too, and his seeming lack of religious faith was roundly criticized. Things were rough for a long time after that. But that president came to a crossroads in his own life, and without abandoning his view on the great moral issue of the day, reportedly experienced a spiritual awakening that resonates even today. Before leaving the White House for the last time, he had already taken major steps toward healing the country’s greatest rifts, and I think would have been able to do more on that front had he had more time. And though not very popular in his own day, history has vindicated him quite thoroughly …
That liberal president? Abraham Lincoln. The other guy from Illinois.