January 20th, 2009

in motion

happy inauguration day

Pär isn't really caught up in inauguration day excitement. The way he sees it, we've already celebrated the win, and now he wants to focus on what Obama will do as President: decisions, actions, the practical business of government.  It's probably his Swedish upbringing, but he has a gut-level, almost superstitious feeling that one should not glory in one's triumph; this should be a somber day, a quiet call to service.

I respect that approach, but disagree about the value of celebrating the inauguration. I think it is part of the business of government; even an important part. We'll see how Obama does with bills and foreign policy and economics and federal programs and all that over time, but the Presidency is also about setting a tone and helping to shape our national attitudes: around our identity as Americans, about the years to come, and toward the rest of the world. This might be something that only a born American can truly understand, how easily this rootless nation loses any cohesive sense of self, how strongly we respond to messages helping us define ourselves.  And often to our detriment; we are easily stirred by jingoism, the cheapest form of leadership. I can't recall many occasions in my lifetime when a President has made me feel good about what it means to be an American. 

But Obama excels at bringing people together, inspiring us to make the country great, by calling upon us to be our best selves. The fact that I can even say such corny things and mean them sincerely is an indicator of how unusual an experience this is, the swearing-in of a leader I have high hopes for.  Being President involves a whole lot more than inspiring the nation, sure, but it's a beautiful start, and I think we need it.  We're hungry for it.  So I'm very excited to witness this moment in time; no, to be a part of this moment in time -- and that's it right there, isn't it?  We're getting a President who encourages everyone to feel more involved, included, welcomed to the table. In a country with so many clashing cultural, racial, and economic divisions between its people, that's a nearly impossible task and nobody's going to manage it perfectly, but the fact that he's trying, it means a lot.  The inauguration ceremony provides a rare event that we can all share in as a nation.

My friend Mark, after attending the inaugural concert on the mall, wrote to tell me, "It's so so easy to retreat into the well earned cynicism of our ages.  But as I was reminded yesterday, it's fantastically - viscerally - reinvigorating to tap into the joy of others at a time like this."  Exactly.  It's an occasion of renewal, when we may tap into a nationwide joy and feel a little more connected, a little more hopeful about what our country can be.  Hell yes I'll be watching.