America changed forever yesterday.
Here's the tragic irony of it all: I missed the inauguration and didn't finally watch it until late last night on a DVD I had recorded. While President Obama was assuming office, I was at St. John the Evangelist Church on Murray Avenue in Goshen, NY. As I was looking at the people around me, I thought that we very well may be the only people on the planet not watching the historic events transpire on television. We were there to say goodbye to our little town's favorite citizen, Bill Lotze, who died in a car accident late Friday night. Barack Obama be damned. I had to be there for Bill. He was an absolute gem of a man.
Within seconds of assuming the realms of power, President Obama was cheerfully handed one last reminder of the silliness and incompetence of the last eight years courtesy of Chief Justice John Roberts, who promptly screwed up the oath of office:
"I do solemnly swear that I will execute faithfully the office of the president to the United States"
That President Obama was a bit flustered is understandable. I have been able to recite by memory the presidential oath since I was twelve years old. One would think that the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court would get it right at so crucial a moment. What did you expect? He was appointed by former President Bush. Then again, let us give the man some much deserved credit; he showed a lot more grace than the late William Rehnquist who, after administering the oath to Bill Clinton in 1993, refused to shake his hand. Class act, that Rehnquist!
"Former President George W. Bush"....Someone pinch me.
Aside from the majesty, meaning and symbolism of the moment, the most amazing, jaw-dropping thing about the day were the expressions on the faces of the Bush Mob as they skipped town. They all seemed so pleased with themselves. At a welcome home ceremony in Texas, the former First Fool told the crowd what "a joyous experience" being president had been for him. "We're back in the state of Texas and we're here to stay". Yeah, you just stay right there, okay, George? Goodbye and thank you for your service to our country.
During the entire twentieth century, only the inaugurations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy can compare to what happened yesterday. What made it so monumental for me was not the new president's race but the fact that for the first time in my life I am older than the president of the United States. When Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961, I was twelve days away from my third birthday. I actually have a conscious memory of a time before the president was born! To tell the truth, that's going to take a few minutes to get used to. I have a friend who was born on August 5, 1961, the day after Barack. Fortunately for her, for the next eight years (I'm predicting two terms) she will continue to have the luxury of being younger than the chief-executive. Some people have all the luck.
Barack Obama has one tough job ahead of him. In his favor is the fact that he has the good fortune to be following into office a man whom most educated observers believe to be the worst president in American history. Before Bush came stumbling down the old political pike, James Buchanan was generally considered by historians to be at the bottom of the list. Somewhere, I am sure, Buchanan's heirs are jabbing their collective fists high in the air and shouting a hearty, "YES!!!" George W. Bush was such a complete and utter failure, even if Obama turns out to be an absolute mediocrity (and I do not believe that will be the case) he will seem like George Washington by comparison.
The most moving thing about January 20, 2009, a day which has passed into history, was the look in the eyes of African Americans all across the nation. It was divided between tears of joy and expressions of utter disbelief that after four-hundred years of injustice and humiliation, this was finally happening.
Just this morning I was absent-mindedly thumbing through a Time Magazine from March 8 of last year when I happened upon the obituary for a ninety-seven year old, African American woman named Johnnie Carr. Born in 1910, she is described in the article as one of the mother figures of the Civil Rights movement who helped engineer the landmark 1955 boycott that ended segregation in the Montgomery, Alabama public transportation system. She was also the childhood friend of the late Rosa Parks. I thought how sad it is that for all they must have seen throughout their long lives, neither of them would live to see the inauguration of President Obama; how proud would have been. But for Rosa Parks and Johnnie Carr, January 20, 2009 would have been just another dull, boring inauguration of another dull, boring white guy.
America was transformed yesterday. Is this a great time to be alive, or what? JAnuary 20, 2009 was a milestone day in American history that we'll all remember for the rest of our lives. The day after, it is just a little easier to believe that we will see the day when we will truly be a color blind society. You can see it in the way young people reacted to candidate Barack Obama when he was on the campaign trail. The color of his skin wasn't even apparent to a lot of these kids! They loved the guy because he was smart, articulate and as cool as a freaking cucumber!
For the first time in a generation, college kids aren't thinking about majoring in business or banking, they're talking about getting into government. Barack Obama has made government cool again! Not since the dawn of Jack Kennedy's New Frontier nearly half a century ago have young Americans felt this way. Twenty-eight years ago tomorrow, Ronald Reagan told his clueless countrymen and women that government wasn't the answer, it was the problem. It is my belief that the Obama administration will forever prove the falacy of that utterly idiotic statement. There will be times - and this is just such a time - where government will be the only answer.
This is the new New Deal. This is the new New Frontier.