Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day 2009

Image from http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/01/20/obama.inauguration/index.html?iref=mpstoryview
Well, it's over. He did it... WE did it. The United States of America accomplished a major milestone in electing an African-American President, and he has now made it through the most expensive, most well-attended, almost coldest inauguration ceremony in history without harm (despite his nervewracking, apparently spontaneous walk down Pennsylvania Avenue during the parade, which must have had the Secret Service peeing their pants, and prompted all the folks updating their Facebook statuses on cnn.com to more or less collectively scream "GET BACK IN THE CAR!").

I was honestly afraid this morning as I thought about MLK and JFK. A generation and a half ago, Obama wouldn't have been able to eat in most restaurants, and any possibility of a black man entering the Presidency would have incited rioting and violence in the South. I know we've come a long way, but I was still afraid that he wouldn't make it through the day...

...and now I'm afraid again, but for a different reason. I voted for Obama, and I believe him capable of the office. But he can't do what he's saying he's going to do. Even as he tamps down people's expectations in his speeches, he's still having to balance it with promises he can't keep so that he isn't seen as a giant downer. Plus I suspect he's believing some of the hype. That's the only reason I could think of that he got out of the car on Pennsylvania Ave. It was a stupid thing to do, the gesture of a beloved leader reaching out to his adoring public, giving them what they wanted... a glimpse of him up close. It was beautiful, and it was frightening.

My friend Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute and a passionate libertarian, has been very critical of what he sees as messianic overtones in the discourse that folks are using when speaking of Obama. He aimed a jab at me for some of my language on Facebook and Google chat statuses today, praising God and asking protection on Obama. He said it sounded like the words of "God Save the King". I scoffed... but did it? I don't really know. I don't know the words to "God Save the King". I've never lived through anything like this, and I don't know what falling into the trap of adoring a President while ignoring his policies would look like. Maybe J.C. has a point.

I teared up at a couple of points in today's ceremony (which I had to watch at work... grrrr... although GMU did put up a big screen in the Johnson Center so it was actually pretty cool), but I only really cried once, when they showed Obama walking all by himself inside the Capitol Building, following Nancy Pelosi, et. al. He looked like he was going to throw up, and that brought the tears. I wanted to say, I know you aren't equal to all this adoration. I know you can't do what people want you to do, and all I'm asking is that you don't totally f**k things up in your bid to be the Most Incredible President Ever. Please, just listen to the Very Smart Guys around you. You've done so much, just being elected as the first African-American President... just overcoming the prejudice you must have experienced growing up with a white Mom and a black Dad (who wasn't around). Please depend on prayer, President Obama. Please don't let all this get to you.

and really, that's what I meant in all my status messages, I think. I just want God to protect him. Because he isn't any more than a man. An amazing man and an intelligent man, but just a man... and he's carrying a lot on his shoulders.

So I'm happy and I'm frightened. and I'm praying. and I guess I hope this ambiguity on all of us, so we don't lose sight of the fact that he is, after all, just a man, and we are still looking to God for our help.

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