Wednesday, January 21, 2009

obama's first day

Well it's official, even a professional cynic like myself was moved by the site of the patrons at the Caffe Italiano turning down the Albanian disco music to listen to Obama speak, and I think that Bush himself looked more comfortable back in Midland. I heard perhaps one too many instances of self-congratulation (did you know that he was the first African-American president?) and smugness all around. But it was surely an encouraging start.

What struck me most about the speech was its Kennedyesque overtones. I had expected more of a Rooseveltian emphasis on hard times, nothing to fear but fear, and there was some of that too. But there was more of the "bear any burden" optimism than I had expected for such hard times. My earliest memory is of Mahalia Jackson [sp?] singing the National Anthem at Kennedy's inauguration in 1960: intentionally or not, Aretha Franklin recreated at least part of that for me. That Ted Kennedy collapsed after the event only added, in its way, to the parallel.

I still don't know what to make of Obama. As a symbolic leader he is already up there with Kennedy and Reagan, the most photogenic presidents of the television era. On the substance I'm rather less sure. I don't as yet see much connection between his "change" theme and the reality of a quasi-Clinton restoration, or between his professed moderation and the largest expansion of Government in memory. And the whole ritual of discrediting the past leader in order to anoint the new one is a bit too tribal for my taste. But I've proved many times that I'm nowhere near the mainstream. We'll see.


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