Brand New & the Inaugural Post-Mortem

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on January 24, 2009

images31There are quite a few who dash to dash the hyperbole of “historic moments” and “first Black President” this and that. Even though, coming correct, the glib satisfaction of seeing it fascinates. Understand, however, that moving forward, it can’t (won’t) be about “Black President(s)” as much as it’s really on the new President who is setting new precedent. Really can’t chew on the re-run “Cosby Show” comparisons or the blah-blah Washington social calendar gossip. The booming horn and swaggering blast of that Kanye West/Rhymefest lyrical confab titled “Brand New” blazes the background of the thought. President Barack Obama, without doubt, is as brand new as the New Year. All else distracts.

Still, of the more fascinating sights and sounds during the swearing-in was the way in which millions braved biting cold temperatures to get less than a glimpse. Just to say: “we were there.” The plasma screen and HD weren’t enough for the nearly two million who hit the National Mall. This is no simple feat, barely moving into overcrowded Metro stations since 4 am in single digit wind chill. Yet, even in this age of virtual experience and the 24/7 digital news cycle, there are many who crave the touch and feel. Perhaps that says something refreshing about the detached, “social media” and Facebooked fix we’re in. To participate in it rather than watch it on a screen.

The history of the moment kept the air warm that day, but it also posed the problem of high and – some could argue – unreasonable expectations.

At one point last checked, the temperature read 23 degrees. There were reported winds of 15 mph, dropping the mercury to feel like 10. Yet, the size of crowds at key Metro stations could fool one into believing it was somewhat of a comfortable spring day, minus streaming lines of humanity bundled in winter clothing.

Patience is obviously tested during these moments, the excitement and euphoria mixed in with the tension of a big moment. There was also a great chance that many wouldn’t make it in time to see the new President placing his hand on Lincoln’s bible on a jumbo-tron. Imagine making that long cross-country trek then getting stuck in a subway. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing since he ended up re-taking the oath, anyway. Still, there was a warm energy driving these crowds, an unmistakable sense of religious-like revival combined with the jubilant madness of a music concert. It was inspirational, yet frightening on a cult-of-personality scale certain to give the new President and those around him pause.

As it was, lot of frozen tears and snot caked the steps and grass between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. And there was quite a bit of exhaling and relief throughout the crowds, the moment finally hear. Even Obama, typically cool, could have displayed a spark of almost boyish glee as he and Chief Justice John Roberts tripped over lines during the Inaugural oath. That’s no consolation, however, once you watch the tape twice and realize Roberts mauled it to the point where grumpy legal heads had to question its validity.

And, then, there was the speech. Profound, powerful and … serious. It appeared to soar several thousand feet above the heads of many simple-minded citizens on the ground. This was, by all accounts, heady. He didn’t chastise, but he wasn’t gentle either. Nor should he be. The world is quite a hot, uncertain mess at the moment. Instead, he opted for the “party over” approach, a deeply intestinal history lesson, the professor offering weighty lecture – it wasn’t meant to give the rhetorical punch of the campaign trail. The hard work is ahead, his candor stretched with all the makings of a rather creepy and humorless Home Depot do-it-yourself workshop. His recent 68 percent Gallup poll approval rating may signal the national weariness.

This was not what many – dare we say most – in the Mall crowd expected, a thesis on how traditions of the old compliment tools of the new; grand allocution on what makes us great and how we can be greater. How American heritage dictates American future. They wanted hype and stadium boom bap.

Too cold for that, fam.

One could feel the great, tectonic paradigm shift between two eras that reaches well beyond the packed crowds on the National Mall. There is more than a transition of Presidents taking place. National callings transcend ideology and partisanship as folks stress to recalibrate their place. With expectations high, there is a big conversation taking place at the moment, citizens on the street also demanding something very different from the political norm of the previous eight years.

This is supposedly the “post-partisan” era just as much as the social desire for a “post-racial” era. Still, challenges ahead for the new President as Mall crowds angrily booed the outgoing Administration, taunting the Texan with the old time dis of a sports team loss. For some reason, I can’t help but wonder if that could translate into problems along the way – the left is already growling at the bi-partisan love fest. Obama’s desire to somehow tamp down the rancor characteristic of modern American politics will have to go beyond the usual tug between governing bodies back and forth across Pennsylvania Avenue.

Many talking heads, political junkies, and pundits alike may accuse Barack Obama of being the predictable President. Predictable in the sense that he abhors what he can’t anticipate. He is an Executive consumed by preparation – a Commander-in-Chief who realizes the virtue in steady planning. This is what makes him somewhat practical and pragmatic in his approach. He doesn’t like what he can’t see – or, at least, what he can’t have some sort of control over.

That doesn’t mean he can’t surprise us. In that sense, he’s quite an unpredictable President.

That’s when President and First Lady calmly stepped from behind the 5-inch thickness of their muscled, bullet-proof “brand new” Cadillac, appearing unplanned, unstaged, unscripted and, to the formidable phalanx of Secret Service agents surrounding him, annoyingly unexpected.  But, it was breath-taking and fantastic on multiple levels. For one, it exhibited a clear departure from the previous President. Obama, through street walk and previous Ben’s Chili Bowl visit, relays a clear message that he’s the “People President” – it’s not about him so much as it is about what he can affect on “we.”

Despite the reserved nature of a President once accused of professorial “aloofness,” Obama is proving himself as somewhat spontaneous. Embracing the experience as one big exciting adventure, seeking to draw us in. His inaugural speech defied expectations and that same tenor is set with something as simple as motorcade fanfare. There is serious power in this, an intoxicating form of constituent relationship management that keeps both supporters and detractors on their toes. A way to appeal directly to the public without the restrictions of media lense and Executive pulpit. Though he claims himself the transparent President, expect us all challenged from simply keeping up with Barack Obama.


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