Tuesday, January 20, 2009

inauguration musings

Every four years I start feeling like a child who has had too many sweets, too much excitement. There is nothing for it, but to send me off to bed.

As a political junkie (or, I should say, a recovering political junkie), I have learned to digest my political news in little pieces. But around every inauguration time, I start feeling a decided sugar overload.

Or maybe it is my intrinsic distrust of ceremony. Those Quaker roots go deep. Parades and flummeries just seem to be better-suited to dying monarchies.

But we Americans love our royalty-lite, believing that "ceremony will not be such a burden as the want of ceremony has been."

And even though I am literally exhausted by this political season, I wish President Obama well, and I wish America well -- for this will be a most difficult four years that we face together. And I will pray for his success and the success of the country. But, I simply cannot face the event with the enthusiasm of the chipper, young voices that have recently populated my radio -- and it would not matter to me who had been elected in November.

And I think I know why. I took the photograph at the top of this blog at an inauguration thirty-six years ago on my way to an assignment in Europe. (You can tell it is back in The Day because the ceremony is on the eastern side of the Capitol -- and some men are wearing proper hats.)

The nation was at war. The economy was spiraling into serious recession. But the nation hoped for better times. The man elected president had carried 61% of the popular vote and had won in every state except one. And the nation had the promise of a future in space. The moon rover and its astronauts received a rousing cheer in the inaugural parade.

Not all tales of hope end in glory. The president, of course, was Richard Nixon, who would be gone in just over a year. The nation would be left divided and deep in an economic trough that would not be relieved for almost another decade.

I am not here to rain on any one's joy. There will be genuine celebration. Perhaps, Peggy Noonan's prediction in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness will actually come to fruition:

Young black men will save our country. I'm not sure completely what I mean by this but--they're tough and smart and know how to survive...
But there is an anecdote to be recalled during all times of exuberant glory:
For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph -- a tumultuous parade.

In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments.

The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes, his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses.

A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown -- and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.


Calypso said...

It is said that tomorrow Obama's first full day at work he will start the process of bringing troops home from Iraq. This is a good thing.

As to the rest of it - in the words of Washington Irving:"He was a tall, good-looking man, and somewhat given to pomp and circumstance, which made him an object of note in the eyes of the wondering savages."

I can only hope the "wondering savages" will let the man do his job realizing he is but one young man (4th youngest in that job I believe).

Steve Cotton said...

Calypso -- I suspect he will merely start shifting troops to Afghanistan. The more things change, the more they stay the same. But he was honest about it in the campaign. In the end the war policies of Obama and McCain were not that much different.

I hope he remembers this day of adulation because Americans are a fickle people. We divorce our leaders as often as we divorce our own lives.

Laurie said...

Ahh. Richared Nixon. I need to dig up our family pics of the day he visited out hometown amid the swamps of South Louisiana to attend the funeral of the late Sen. Allen Ellender. My sister claims to have bumped him in the crowd. But she was always a tad dramatic. I never attended an inauguration. I never saw Richard Nixon, either. Sigh.

Steve Cotton said...

Laurie -- I will admit that inaugurations have a certain romance to them -- no matter who is being inaugurated. Later that night, a dashing, young Air Force officer had the opportunity to dance with the First Lady and Julie Nixon. That may have been where I first learned that poltical power is truly an illusion.

Laurie said...

Dashing? Details, please.

Steve Cotton said...

Laurie -- Modesty forbids more.

Adrian Reynolds said...

Well written and sharply observed regarding Nixon.

Me, I avoided all sight of the Messiah - a man should be judged by his actions, not by his intentions and the pomp of his circumstance.

The first 100 days are always the most watched and Obama seems to have got off to a good start in some respects. But the real proof will be his commitment to the American Way and the preservation of all those values that make America the shining beacon that it is still to the great majority of the world's poorer folk.