My inner Pollyanna was basking in blissfulness, rolling in the hay of righteous rhetoric, backstroking through the sunny sibilance of aspiration.
Drunk, apparently, on alliteration.
It was a perfect day. Cold but not freezing. Crowded but not crushing. A diverse people celebrating yet another historic day in the nation’s capital.
In one poignant moment, he paused while reentering the Capitol and turned for a last look at his kingdom and subjects: “I want to take a look one more time,” said President Obama. “I’m not going to see this again.”
Okay, fine, he’s not king and voters are not subjects. At least not yet. But it must have felt that way, especially having just delivered an inaugural address that informed the nation that things are about to change, royally.
Bipartisanship brunches notwithstanding, there was no hint in Obama’s words that he was interested in chatting up his political opposition over common ground. When he turned to bid farewell to a memory, he might as well have been bidding farewell to his former self — the conciliatory politician who once declared that there is no red America nor a blue America.
“Sayonara, suckers. You’ll never see that guy again.”
Obama may have entered the presidency hoping to bring an end to partisanship, but he entertains no such fantasies now. As he once told a handful of reporters on Air Force One, “I’m no patsy.”
Confident and experienced in his second term, Obama has become fully himself. Which is not to say that I disagree with everything or even most of what he said — at least thematically. Who isn’t for justice, equality, love, climate stability and peace in our time? Sign me up.
Confession: With speeches as with movies, I’m not much of an instant critic. I don’t watch a movie; I enter it. I want to lose myself, to feel what the actor feels, to experience the world as he does. I check my snark at the door.
Thus, Pollyanna saw the inauguration this way: Obama, the first black president entering a second term on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, seized the moment and left perfect storms whimpering in envy. Expansive in his vision of a United States, bound by common purpose and the belief that all men and women are created equal, he reiterated the Great American Truth: That every man and women has an inalienable right to pursue happiness and prosperity on a level playing field, equal in all ways under all laws.
Sing it! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. . . . His truth is marching on!
Then Obama said: “We have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”
Yes, yes, yes! I’ll have what he’s having. I’ll go sleeveless in winter and cut my bangs! Of course we change when necessary. And of course we have to work to keep those truths . . . truthful.
Then along comes little Miss Monday Morning, who always begins her sentences with, “Yes, but.” What does this mean, substantively? Ah:
“The commitments we make to each other through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
Loose translation: Entitlement reform will not be topping the president’s second-term agenda. What it means beyond this is any palm reader’s guess.
We understand that we’re not a nation of takers (as Paul Ryan once regrettably put it), but how entitlement programs that far exceed our ability to pay for them “free us to take the risks that make this country great” is gobbledygook of the first order. It reeks of caffeine and the smug satisfaction familiar to all writers, who, upon crafting a sentence that is full of sound and fury signifying nothing, ignore the editor’s imperative: Delete, delete, delete. Or as I prefer to put it, kill your little darlings.
What it all really means, of course, is that Barack Obama has been liberated by a second term, free to take risks that he hopes will make his legacy great. This is his moment, his emancipation proclamation, his hinge point of history — and there’s no looking back now.