IT'S a day for other people to make speeches, not to take note of what I hope, for what's left of his sake, is the worst thing Christopher Hitchens ever wrote, and not just in terms of its subject (Wow, you just gave Oliver Fucking Stone a flesh wound!). You may already have formed some notion of how I view the breathless celebritization of presidential inaugurations, versus the genuine significance of the speech, and you're probably correct. Even so respected an orator as The Next President seems somehow to take a back seat to The Hoopla, in which people who would otherwise be fawning over the Oscars™ get to imagine they are doing so, quadrennially, thankfully, in the service of something serious, and historical, and earth-shaking, when they're really only interested in determining the night's Winners and Losers in the fashion derby.
In this I am not the mere prisoner of irascibility, innate or cultivated, the dour profile of my Midwestern upbringing, nor my sans-culottes political tastes: the first Inaugural in my active memory is John Kennedy's in 1961, which set a damned high standard for speechmaking that all intervening speeches have failed even to approach; as the gowns and the glittering stage costumes have become exponentially more dazzling the speeches have mostly huddled in Pat Nixon's Good Republican Cloth Coat, yet failed to ward off the cold. (It's interesting, too, that the recent Inaugural Hoopla follows almost the same arc as the Republic at large: revived by the wrong-headed Truman, heedless of the size of the snowball, the general downhill trajectory he was launching it on, or the avalanche field 100 meters below; quixotically downsized to something befitting a democratic society, and government, both poised to benefit from post-Renaissance advances in thinking, by Jimmy Carter, who was promptly taken out and pummeled for the affront; returned to its full ersatz, Old Hollywood Todd-AO pseudo-Glamor by President Nancy and Ronald Reagan, who managed to quadruple the number of inaugural balls as a warm up to tackling the National Debt; followed by Bill Clinton, who just couldn't stop himself. George W. Bush's featured Ricky Martin.)
As well, y'know, I do not share this visceral reaction to Presidential melanin. It is not that I don't understand those who do. I don't understand the "how far we've come on race" business, which seems to me, if it needs illustrating--and a better way of doing that, I think, is a hard look at where we were--is much better shown by the ability of Denzel Washington or Samuel L. Jackson to open movies that could have as easily gone to Bruce Willis, and that Oprah is not only the most powerful person on earth, but also its Lit teacher. Those are every-day realities; the odds on Barack Obama becoming President were long, regardless of his skin color. Conversely, the idea that his skin color was some sort of impediment to getting the nomination of the Democratic party was simply one of those fantasy simulations his rabid blog-o-sphere fanboys ran when they needed to explain their natural superiority to the backwoods residents of Pennsylvania or Indiana, states which ultimately went to Obama in the general, it should be noted, and without need of further exegesis. I mean, God Knows that Chronos could have been kinder to Barbara Jordan, but then her gender, her sexual orientation, and her multiple sclerosis all probably cost her more than her heritage. It seems, if anything, that people are celebrating the fact that Democratic party power brokers conceded that an African-American could be elected President, provided he was a remarkably attractive candidate, raised a lot of money, and the Republican party was lying face down in its own sick. Call me when they decide an un-photogenic lesbian atheist socialist with a minute knowledge of the US role in South and Central America is just what the ticket needs. I'm in the book.
Frankly, I'm more excited about having a President who can speak, and I'm hoping--foolishly--that it might start a trend which could eventually find its way to local news, where I have been enduring a week-long festival of coiffure models who cannot pronounce the word "inaugural". You try joining in the excitement under the circumstances. Out of no fewer than seventeen I have heard exactly one do it right, and she was sporadic about it. In-nawg-er-ul. In-aw-gurr-ation. Channel 8 managed to give one of its bench players the historic overview piece where he mangled it as every fifth word for two-and-a-half fucking minutes. Indeed, the damn thing has partnered with historic much like Bonnie teamed with Clyde; somebody last night tossed us to "the historic streets of Our Nation's Capital" where one of her satellite henchmen was standing on the historic sidewalk in front of an historic wrought-iron fence. I suppose I should be thanking god that he's called the Vice-President, and not dep-a-dee something-or-other, and I suppose we're all thankful we don't have to wait until Feb-a-wary.
Small blessings, though, were soured somewhat by the occasional break from the Celebrifest to discuss "the massive security problem" with counter-terr-iz-im experts. On the grounds, I suppose, that these guys don't want to be called "Security", since it draws unfavorable parallels between their own real expertise and the policing acumen of the average mall cop. And, no doubt, because the nets don't have any "counter-Republican experts" on the payroll *.
* cheap shot