What's All This Then?

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Friday, January 23, 2009
 
INAUGURAL POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE - CRITICIZING AND PRAISING AT THE SAME TIME

On December 22, I wrote the following:
"There’s no question that the inauguration of a new president is a major event in the life of this country - but does it need to be the super bowl, the academy awards, D-Day, VJ-Day and a royal coronation all wrapped up in a single event? Alerts are being broadcast about the difficulties one might encounter being in Washington on that day as though it is or will be a war zone!! If you’re a mere citizen that is. Not a hotel room to be had. Not a cab to be hailed. Not a public toilet available to relieve your urge to purge. No backpacks, strollers , umbrellas and a host of other items banned from anywhere close to inaugural activities. Very little to indicate that we live in a democracy in which ordinary people have just elected a new government. But everything imaginable to indicate that something akin to the coronation of a King for Life is about to take place.

Since our beginning, the roles of chief executive and national symbol have been combined in one individual - adding to the idea that the President of the United States is some sort of exalted individual with inherited powers above and beyond those of political leaders in other democracies that have a separate individual with the title and responsibilities of a national symbol. The British Parliamentary system comes to mind of course. Prime ministers of England are not thought of or treated as "exalted" figures. There’s no British version of "Hail to the Chief" for British Prime Ministers. When pomp and ceremony is called for , the royal family is available. I know the reason we are not today a loyal member nation of the British empire can be mostly attributed to our founding fathers’ decision to eschew all forms of royalty from our form of government - but maybe, when we broke away from King George lll, we should have created a substitute office to represent us all in ceremonial matters - maybe someone to run on a ticket with presidential and vice presidential candidates as "ceremonial president."

I don’t know about you, but I think the idea of having a ceremonial head of state and getting rid of inauguration pomp and circumstance is a more appropriate way of honoring and celebrating our democracy.

Probably a hell of a lot cheaper too"
I’m not about to change my mind. If there was an announcement that the Obama inauguration was the last of its kind - that future inaugurations would be stripped of all the pageantry and restricted to a swearing in ceremony and an inaugural speech - I would be pleased. At the same time I have to admit that I watched most of Tuesday’s ceremonies and some of Wednesday’s - and I was moved - teary eyed at times. The pomp and circumstance serves a purpose as a celebration of our nation and the equivalent of a royal family that binds us all together - which I guess would be our constitution. If we didn’t have this ritual, we’d need some other to celebrate who we are. July 4 is O.K. - but not really enough.

Only idiots and confirmed bigots would not have been moved by the seminal moment in our history that took place on January 20, 2009. . We have much to be ashamed of when it comes to race relations. We’re still a long way from healing the scars caused by slavery and decades of racial discrimination that followed the emancipation proclamation. But to think that in one lifetime we could move from it being illegal for a black man or woman to vote in some parts of the country - or to drink from the same water fountains or use the same toilets or eat at the same restaurants or stay in the same hotels as white citizens - to having a black American ascend to the highest office in the land and become the most important person in the world - says something important about the United States that we need to be reminded of from time to time. This democratic experiment that began 233years ago is still a work in progress - far from complete - and I have no doubt laden with surprises as the future unfolds.

We had an official invitation to attend the inaugural - as I’m sure did many thousands - maybe millions of Obama supporters. There was no way we could go for a multitude of reasons - but we were there in spirit and we joined with those who were there in celebration of this wonderful historic event.

Good luck Mr. President - and if there’s the same kind of pomp and circumstance when you swear an oath to begin your second term - this ancient cynic won’t complain too loudly.