Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Regarding Obama's inaugural address
No, I don't mean the salutation — "My fellow citizens" — for I have never been among those who were captivated with any of the various theories about Obama's birthplace or years in Indonesia or the like.
But what came next after the salutation is almost certainly untrue: "I stand here today humbled by the task before us ...." I do not believe Barack Obama is a naturally humble man, nor that he has been made so by the contemplation of "the task" before either him or this nation.
That is not a terrible indictment. Humility is conventionally considered to be an important virtue. But I don't consider myself a humble man either, and I have far less by way of position or accomplishment to claim. Barack Obama has indeed hewed a wondrous and improbable path to stand where he stood to take the (slightly mangled — not his fault) oath he took today.\**/ Leaders who are to be faced with great challenges and subjected to harsh criticisms need strong qualities, including resilient egos.
And it is indeed extraordinary and historic that a black man is, for the first time, our President. That it is Barack Obama in particular who is that man is, for him, an entirely legitimate source of personal pride, one with respect to which all Americans can surely share with him our personal congratulations and as part of our national celebration of a landmark event of powerful and important symbolism transcending any single individual.
But without dismissing or denigrating that, I respectfully (if not humbly) submit that there is an even larger sense in which today's inauguration is extraordinary and historic: Never, in at least modern American history (since the rise of prompt and effective national channels of communications some time prior to the Civil War), have we chosen a President about whose fundamental qualities we all know so very little, and onto whom such diverse and mutually inconsistent expectations have been passionately projected.
Pick almost any imaginable description of Barack Obama's fundamental beliefs and tendencies and instincts, and you can then find rhetoric from his speeches to support that description. (But beware: contrary examples can be easily found.)
Pick almost any imaginable description of Barack Obama's fundamental beliefs and tendencies and instincts, and you will then find only a short and insubstantial list of actions and accomplishments to support that description. (And beware: contrary examples can be easily found.)
I genuinely do not know — but I have grave doubts — whether Barack Obama even has any fundamental beliefs and tendencies and instincts, other than a pronouncedly non-humble belief that he ought to be President. I think he may have that, along with gifts for rhetoric and back-alley politics, in common with the Forty-Second President, the husband of our present Sec-State Nominee.
Because my conviction is that Barack Obama is, at present, still so without a track record that he cannot be meaningfully evaluated, I frankly don't attach any importance at all to the rest of his inaugural address. I concede that's flippant on my part. He struck a great many fine notes in it. But his own history doesn't give me a clue what parts of it represent core beliefs and what parts of it are rhetorical window dressing — so as far as I'm concerned, at this point it's all window dressing, and we don't know what's actually inside the window.
I am consciously resolved to hope for the best. Our new President is, to me and I think to anyone who's even moderately trying to be objective, a known unknown. Because he's never actually led anything larger than his own presidential campaign before — and that achieved a modest victory over a pathetic opponent in a political climate in which it would have taken concentrated self-destructiveness for any Democrat to lose — it requires hope and faith to believe that Barack Obama can effectively lead the United States of America as either the Chief Executive of our laws, the head of State, or the Commander in Chief of our military.
So I will forgive him his fib today about being "humbled," and I'll reserve judgment on the rest of his speech. I will instead hope and pray that he turns out to be even a fraction as well suited for his new job as he clearly believes himself to be.
Congratulations to Barack Obama on his inauguration, and God save the President and these United States.
\**/ I wonder if Pres. Obama and Chief Justice Roberts, with or without the Lincoln Bible, will re-speak the Oath of Office correctly sometime today in private, or perhaps already have done so? As Adam Liptak points out, there's precedent for that dating back to the Coolidge Administration, and it's a low-trouble cost-free way to forestall litigation and foreclose doubts. (Surely by now someone has already grabbed the BadOathMeansObamaIsntPrez.com domain name.) As for the video-clip moment being slightly spoiled for history's archives, perhaps Sen. Obama ought to have thought twice about voting to deny confirmation to our Chief Justice — who I'm sure was innocent of any malice aforethought, but who might also recognize, in settings outside the Supreme Court Building, the laws of karma.
\***/ Regular readers will understand that I refer to Dubya as "President Stubborn" for the most part with affection, admiration, and appreciation. In commuting the sentences of, but refusing to pardon outright, even such arguably worthy candidates as Scooter Libby or former U.S. Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, he left office just as he entered it — hand-in-hand with and faithful to a devoted and loving wife, stubbornly as ever "the anti-Clinton." In a moment of considerable self-insight near the end of his term, Dubya mused that 9/11 had changed him, and that while after 9/11 some Americans had managed to return to their pre-9/11 mindsets, he never had. He said today, upon arriving back in Texas, that what he'll miss most about the presidency is the association with the incredible men and women of our armed forces who served under his command. On behalf of myself and my safe and healthy family, and all of the other Americans who've been free from major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11/01 (including those who lack the sense to appreciate that for themselves or the grace to give credit where due for it): Thank you, President Stubborn.
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(1) Michael J. Myers made the following comment | Jan 20, 2009 7:49:11 PM | Permalink
Mr. Dyer you speak of "known unknowns" about our new President. And while I wish him well, and hope for his success, because to some extent the success of our country and his success are at least partially intertwined, I'm not sanguine about his Presidency.
There is an aerospace industry term called "unk unk" which applies here. An unk unk is an unknown unknown. The uncharitable among us have commented that other than his campaign (which was mostly run by hired professionals) our new President has never run anything but his mouth.
The unk unks will most certainly occur when an untested manager (that's unknown #1 about President Obama) meets a major crisis--say a new 9-11 that can't easily be predicted. Hurricanes, a tanking economy, a fractious Congress can all be anticipated--they're not truly unknowns because it's certain they will happen.
But there are one or more unk unks out there, and may a kindly Providence protect and preserve the United States when one of them befalls President Obama.
His most prominent personal quality is arrogance, the second-most is caution. What's third? Dunno, but it's not an affinity for truth.
Did you catch his comment on Ted Kennedy being carted off? Not from the heart—he composed it, but went down a blind alley first, making it sound strange to the point of being creepy.
(3) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jan 20, 2009 10:22:34 PM | Permalink
Dear Mr. Dyer: Good heavens. The botched oath taking is trifling, on the order of Cowboy Harry bawling that Roland Burris couldn't be seated because the Illinois Secretary of State hadn't countersigned Grubenor Blagojevich's certification that Burris was the appointee. How long did such a tidbit stop Roland? So too with this bagatelle. Far more unsettling is Big Tim Geithner's chiseling on paying his taxes, claiming he was too dumb to hire a good accountant, hiding behind the statute of limitations for part of his bill until he saw a chance at high office, and finally getting a sweetheart resolution by the IRS, i.e. no penalties nor criminal prosecution. Hell of a deal. This man will have charge of $350 billion corruption fund aka Troubled Assets Resolution Program. Who can doubt that Big Tim will be giving great thought on padding his expenses, even while the Wall Street swine jack the Treasury up on wheels and run away with it. Such is one of the first fruit's of The One's superior wisdumb. Once again, I call on The One's admirers to demonstrate how The One is "really smart." That magna Harvard law degree is carrying a load beyond its rated capacity. The next four years promise to be the gaudiest show since US Grant. Don't believe me? Note this headline from REASON's Hit and Run blog:
Yup, a grand and gaudy show.
I note with pleasure the
Mr. Koster: I think you had a sentence there that got truncated, perhaps due to an editing error. I'm curious to know what you noted with pleasure, if you'd like to extend and revise your remarks.
(5) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jan 21, 2009 8:58:38 AM | Permalink
Dear Mr. Dyer: I note with dismay and blush with embarrassment that I ran out of time last night, and left a sentence fragment that should have read:
"I note with pleasure the return of Adam Dyer to Beldarblog, and hope you will let us know how his matches go, win, lose, or draw."
Still true. Go Adam!
Lincoln was a man of the early nineteenth century, of course. For records of his life in his 20s and 30s, we must rely on either oral recollections of those who knew him, taken down late in his life or afterwards, or handwritten manuscripts (pardon the redundance). Yet, I think we know far, far more about Lincoln in his 20s and 30s than we do about Obama in his 20s and 30s. Concluding that such paucity of information has been according to plan is just about inescapable.
Certainly, Obama has more to prove. Being the first black president is an achievement but it no way reflect his performance. The clamor for change is deafening that he has to step up to live to the nation's expectations. Enough for the talking its now time to work - work hard that is.
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