Sadder But Wiser

One nice thing about having a blog this long is that this is the second time I’ve “covered,” as it were, a Presidential inauguration for CHNN, and thus could look back at what I might have written about the first one for guidance.  Turns out that although I was, back then, then putting out posts at a comparatively feverish pace, I didn’t bother to write about President Obama’s first inaugural address until a few days later, when the righty discontents had all weighed in.

This time, as a card-carrying Firebagger discontent myself, I feel moved to weigh in before they do.  With a a couple of fairly significant caveats I’ll get to below, I thought it was a great speech, and as usual one befitting a President who hopes (or pretends to hope) that he will be a better President in the future than he has been in the past.  As you can imagine, I was delighted that, barely a minute in, he roundly dismissed the absurdly revisionist history embraced by his Confederate-dominated opponents with skill and aplomb:

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free.  We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Take that, “Constitutional” conservatives, who fetishize the Declaration of Independence as a near-biblical document designed to institute a theocratic police state that exists only to protect the wealthy and restrict the freedom of everyone else.  Warming to his task, the President continues, with a reference to God that I ordinarily wouldn’t like, but since it makes such a nice knife-twister for the bible-bangers, I’m all for it:

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.  We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.  We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.  We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.

After an annoying passage about “outworn programs” and “reforming our schools” as potential Serious solutions to problems completely of Republican making, Obama goes a welcome step further, undoubtedly to the great chagrin of Fox News aficionados:

We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. 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.

Ouch, said a certain plutocrat with a car elevator and a beak-nosed gym rat with an unseemly affection for Ayn Rand’s womanly charms.  The part that was most meaningful to me, as it must have been for many others, came a little later:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

And, as though specifically linking the struggles of women, African-Americans, and LGBT people weren’t good enough, the President almost made an Obamabot out of me when he went further, drawing the concerns of immigrants, women, the poor, and for the first time in an inaugural address, gay Americans, into the national task at hand.  He finished with a fine (and again strategically brilliant) reminder that he is, like all of us, just a citizen, and his oath differs little than that taken by many others.  If Obama really fancies himself a “king,” as the right is wont to say, he pointedly doesn’t talk like one.  Well, at least most of the time.

One harsh note that spoiled my reverie, but I’m sure won’t escape the notice of his other liberal critics, was the following passage:

We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.

The first part could have been written by Frank Luntz; the second, by Groucho Marx.   Using the “strength of arms” does a lot of things, but “upholding our values” is not among them.  And let’s just say that the “rule of law” means different things to, say, Jamie Dimon, than it does to, say, Bradley Manning.  Had that been the only thing that reminded me that we haven’t really come nearly so far as other parts of the speech optimistically intimated, there was this New Democrat piece of hogwash, which rhetorically opened the door to all sorts of post-partisan deviltry, and we know how that has turned out in the past:

We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time.  We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher.

Sounds like “tweaks” to the very programs he so fervently defended elsewhere are still on the proverbial table, perhaps lurking behind the gravy boat.  Worse, he thinks that the answers to what ails us might lie at least in part in the union-busting, tax-finagling, and of course harder toil from the lower orders that Republicans so relentlessly champion.

The good parts were enough for such perennial skeptics as Charlie Pierce and Ed Kilgore, who both waxed unusually rhapsodic in the afterglow of the President’s admittedly excellent speech; the bad parts, though, weren’t in there by accident.  Here at CHNN, we’re guardedly optimistic.

Emphasis on the guardedly.






  1. Teddy says:


    He needs to build on this by signing some serious LBGT Executive Orders this week. They are written and on his desk: non-discrimination in the armed forces, non-discrimination by federal contractors, a few others.

    If he means to keep the promise of this very good speech, he needs to move ahead right now and make it so.

    • cocktailhag says:

      As I said, my optimism is guarded, but for us gay types, we probably don’t need to worry. (See Cheney, Mary, and her Daddy…)
      I guess old age (or worse) has made me a lot more sanguine about gay rights than, say, the working poor, public servants like postmen and teachers, and the planet’s future.
      They’re the ones sill losing ground, in a conveniently bipartisan way. The very existence of Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud shows both that the plutocrats are on board, and too many gay people are just as grabby and selfish as anybody else.
      Marriage, just like everything else, will soon be available, but only to the few who can afford it.

  2. nswfm says:

    And if you are single or an athiest, the country says fuck you. A lot of droning going on in that speech. Blah blah blah Fluffy. Blah blah blah.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Whenever I start thinking I’m too cynical, I’ll think of you, fondly. Sadly, I’ve grown to only believe the bad parts of Obama speeches. And as a single atheist, I get your drift that much the more.
      As one of my favorite Jewish mothers says, “Could have been better; could have been worse.”

  3. nswfm says:

    The problem with the Droner in Chief is the alternatives are so horrible:

  4. RUKidding says:

    Let’s just say that I’m “cautious.” Optimistic? Not so much.

    I listened to most of Obama’s “speech” yesterday. It definitely was one of his better ones. I give him that much, and I’ll also have to hand it to Obama that he talked about gay civil rights for the first time in an inauguaral speech. I think when he uttered the Senaca Falls to Selma to Stonewall phrase, the shrieking & screaming you probably heard was my rightwing family rending their tunics & tearing out their hair!

    There was much that was good in his speech, and predictably, it drove so-called “conservatives” NUTS. I believe most of the Very Serious People had his speech in advance, so they were ready with their brickbats & pitch forks, and of course, it’s been labeled the LIBERAL AGENDA already… like: not so much. More like: the REALITY situation, or something.

    Well, we shall see. Sadly my “bet” is that Obama will now proceed to bend himself into a pretzel to be all bipartisan-y & compromise-y with so-called “Republicans,” who’ve pretty much told us all they their intention is to remain as nasty & obstructionist & uncompromising as possible.

    And so, we’ll probably get a whole lotta NOTHING, ZIP, NADA, Bupkiss other than this mighty fine speechifying.

    Hope I’m totally wrong, but… once bitten ‘n all.

    • cocktailhag says:

      I’ve been waiting with bated breath to see what, if anything, Glenn Greenwald had to say about it. He’s had it up to his eyebrows with Obama’s “pretty words,” so rarely matched by subsequent deeds.
      I hope we’re both wrong, but the farm will not be bet.

      • RUKidding says:

        hmmm… good point. I happened to read the NYT today (an increasingly rare occurance due to crappy content these days), and I duly noticed that Bobo, of all people, seemed to be praising Obama for his mighty fine speech. Well if Bobo’s praising it… then I think we should all start to worry… or something.

        • cocktailhag says:

          I stopped reading the NYT, too. $2.50 a day ($6 on Sundays) to read Bobo, Douthat, Dowd, Friedman, and that fruitcake food critic who fell in love with W? Not a chance.

  5. mikeinportc says:

    Thanks for listening for us , CH. I could only stomach ~ 3 minutes of pre-speech bs, before shutting it off. Nice speech, but guessing that last bit is the only part we can count on. ;)
    As usual, if you only heard the reaction, you’d think the gene splicers had combined Frederick Douglas,Ghandi, and Karl Marx, and handed him that speech.

    Glenn’s first reaction to the speech was apparently similar to Cornell West ( & me). The outrageously hypocritical contradiction of the Droner-In-Chief using MLK’s bible.

    OT : Jamie Dimon is pissed,and offended, and not just about his bonus being cut to $11M. The banksters were there for us in the tough times [ that they created], and it’s high time they stop being treated so shabbily.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Actually, I only watched a few clips; I worked off the written text.
      That Jamie Dimon, were he a cartoon villain, would be dismissed even by children as too implausible. Were he speaking from jail, his whining might be slightly more justified.

    • RUKidding says:

      GAH! Does Jamie feckin’ Dimon win the award for WHINER in Chief, or what? If that CROOK spent half as much time doing an *honest* day’s work – even though it’s highly unlikely that Dimon even KNOWS what *honesty* is, much less “honest work” – as he does *complaining,* then we wouldn’t all be in the poo we are in – largely because of Jamie Dimon’s criminality.

      No doubt Jamie was wearing his Presidential platinum-plated cufflinks again as he vetched about his miserable lot in life due to the serfs pointing out what a vast honking CROOK he is. How dare we tell the truth?

      Dimon can go join Phil Mickelson, the pro golfer from San Diego currently crying and whining about taxes, in the Vetch Corner of Galt’s Gulch.

      Fuck him.

  6. mikeinportc says:

    To further answer your question, CH, from yesterday’s live Q & A

    Are you surprised by the reactions of the American media establishment to Obama’s inaugural speech? – HLB Engineering

    Glenn Greenwald : ” I found the reactions to that Inaugural ritual creepy and depressing for two reasons:

    (1) I can’t believe how reflexively and reliably many progressives cheer for Obama’s speeches and pretend that they signify anything substantive given how many times he’s said things that had no bearing on what he does. I do agree speeches on their own can be important – that’s the power of ideas I referenced above – but viewing one of Obama’s speeches as reflective of his actual intent is the consummate case of Lucy and the football.

    (2) This has been the case for a couple decades now, but everything about the inaugural festivities reeks of empire and royalty. It’s pure Versailles – so gaudy and overwrought. It’s particularly gross when the country is suffering so much financially. But that’s precisely when people love their monarchs and royal families – it gives them a fantastical escape.

    But the police state created in DC, and the marching and dancing troupes that parade before the waving Leader, and the ecstasy over his presence, are really unhealthy. The one exception was the 2008 inauguration – electing the first black president was something really worth celebrating given the country’s history with race – but everything else is wretched. I had to ignore it.

    Political leaders really aren’t meant to be revered. It’s unhealthy and dangerous.”

    • RUKidding says:

      Thanks for that update. I echo everything Greenwald said. Although Obama’s speech has some merit due to the inclusion of the LGBT rights, that’s about “it” as far as I’m concerned.

      Obama is just Bush with black skin and same lack of conscience or concern for anything but what the 1% want and demand. Obama is as guilty or guiltier of the same and worse War Crimes as BushCo.

      Some Republicans now complain about Obama thinking he’s King (as in the position, not MLK). Well, yeah: and who set up that situation to occur but BushCo??? Set in place so that future Presidents, no matter of which “party” (which doesn’t matter anyway), would have Unitary Exec Privlege and power.

      I tell these Republicans: If you don’t like it, then why did you clap & cheer when W set this up? You LOVED it then. What’s the difference now??? Oh yeah: Obama’s black. I forgot. Oh well, too bad, so sad. Same old, different day.

      The inaugurations should be cut way shorter and have far less pomp and circumstance, but I won’t hold my breath. It’s more dog ‘n pony shows to distract the masses… apparently it works.

  7. mikeinportc says:

    … & a review of the (expectedly) lame festivities :)

    • cocktailhag says:

      Nice take… from a music critic, to boot. I did drop in and even comment at GG’s new Guardian site for the first time on Q & A day; it was nice to see familiar handles; less nice to be hundreds of comments and a few hours behind when I did.