Inauguration day

It’s a historic day for several reasons. Most obviously, because a black man is being sworn in as president. As the guy from Oakland astutely notes in last weekend’s This American Life episode (around 48 minutes in), Obama’s no Marcus Garvey or Martin Luther King — if he represented that kind of change, he’d never have been a serious contender for the presidency. But racial progress requires movement on many fronts, and it’s worth quite a bit to have the most mainstream, the loudest voice of political power in the United States now be the voice of a black man with a funny name.

It’s a historic day for being the end of the Bush presidency, which deserves to be remembered as one of the worst in history. (Whether right-wing think-tank money and contrarian historiography can paper over the sordid outrages and disappointments of the last eight years is another question.) It’s clear that in style of governance (competence!) and in substance on many issues, Obama will be a significant change. In some areas, like the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, we have to fall back on hope at this point. And those of us who want an accounting of Bush-era crimes, particularly war crimes, are likely to be disappointed. But still, good riddance to Bush and his gang.

It’s a historic day, finally, for marking a transition of power in truly perilous times. Economists who matter agree that we’re in the worst economic peril since the Great Depression, with unemployment expected to peak north of 10% before it’s over. Paul Krugman and others have questioned whether Obama’s stimulus proposal is enough to avoid a real catastrophe; it looks like it’s going to require wisdom, shrewdness, and luck to avoid an actual depression.

No less urgently, global climate change seems to be accelerating, with what seems like very little political will in this country to make the changes needed to stave off dramatic temperature rises and attendant calamities. Strong presidential leadership could make the difference here, if we’re lucky.

And all the challenges the country faces take place against the backdrop of declining U.S. power in the world. The empire is declining, creating uncertainty in the global order. The best we can realistically hope for is that Obama’s team will try to manage the decline differently than the Bush administration did with its insane wars and counterproductive foreign policy.

Matt Yglesias wrote yesterday about meeting Obama a few days before he became famous, and how his 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention was “surprising and important.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWynt87PaJ0[/youtube]

And it was. I remember watching the speech on TV and thinking that this guy could be president and probably should be president. In the depths of the Bush years, his speech deftly redefined America as an inclusive, progressive place rather than the xenophobic, militaristic bunker we’d watched being constructed all around us. It’s remarkable watching that speech today — so much of the rhetoric carried over to the campaign, and the real power of that rhetoric to unite Americans in support of progressive policies is one of the most important things Obama has to offer as he assumes the bully pulpit.

Like anyone who reaches the heights of power, Obama has sold us out already. But I can’t help pausing this day and wishing him well.

13 responses to “Inauguration day”

  1. lane says:

    amen, brother.

  2. Most obviously, because a black literate, intelligent man is being sworn in as president.

  3. Dave says:

    That goes to my second point, doesn’t it?

  4. Marleyfan says:

    September 11, 2001, was historic to American history. Today is yet another…

    About ten years ago I received a significant promotion in my career. I was judged by a good friend, before I was given the chance too prove myself. I will reserve judgment until President Obama has had the opportunity to actually govern.

  5. All day (and last night!) I’ve been hearing in my head a song with approximately the same tune as “The Saint James Infirmary Blues”, with the words “Inauguration Day” where the words “the corner by the square” occur in the source, and none of the other lyrics specified. Does such a song (or something similar) exist? If not perhaps I should write it.

  6. LP says:

    YAY!! YAY!! Welcome, President Obama!!

  7. Dave says:

    The air seems a bit easier to breathe, doesn’t it?

  8. Scotty says:

    I just purchased and hung an American flag outside my home. The world has just become a little more bizarre.

  9. lane says:

    well sure marley, and david dinkins still takes some shit. but . . .

    none the less.

  10. Jane says:

    Hooray for President Obama.

  11. Natasha says:

    The air seems better than it does on a Christmas day! I am so proud for our new president!

    I am also so annoyed with some of my friends making strange remarks about today, that I am ready to delete them from my networks.

  12. Marleyfan says:

    I don’t understand the Dinkins reference?

  13. I think the song I’m thinking of, that I refered to in 5, is called “Independence Day” and is not actually that similar to St. James.