With a Hand on a Bible, American History Closes, and Opens
In California at this moment it is 9:50 a.m., but I feel like I have lived a whole day.
America 2. America II. America 2.0. America Two. America Too. America at 9:50 is not the same America I woke up in this morning. That America has lived its whole day. In that day, as Barack Obama pointed out, his father could not get served at a café in that America. A sign on the television screen: “We Have Overcome.” Well, yes we have. Yes we could.
But that isn’t what Obama meant in months past when he was saying so memorably, “Yes We Can.” That challenge became the reality in the America that was born this morning. In an instant with a man’s hand on a Bible, the massive challenge of “We Shall Overcome” is transformed to the massive challenge “Yes We Can.” Talk about history being made.
Can we? Obama thinks so, with emphasis on the “we.” His inaugural speech let some air out of the balloon.
He’s not going to be able to snap his fingers after all. America 2 begins with his dropping a lot of responsibility into our laps. America 2 is going to have to be America Too. JFK said “Ask not,” etc. Obama said. “You can’t just think about yourself anymore, you have to think about America Too.”
He jumped all over his first chance to lead. At the second line of the Oath, he didn’t hesitate to correct the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
He built his campaign on the theme of inclusion, and I got the impression he didn’t waste any time, in his first minutes in office, in putting inclusion into play. I have the feeling his speech didn’t stand out any more than it did because it was a part of a quartet. Rick Warren may have political baggage, but he can bring white thunder at a pulpit the way Elvis brought white thunder to black music. Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem sketched the late America in a way that completed Obama’s café snapshot.
Finally, The Rev. Joseph Lowery, the old leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, played stunning counterpoint to Rick Warren, providing his new America 2 compatriot a lesson in cadence, structure, and climax, while carrying the “Yes We Can” theme for Obama into a sparkling blue-sky cathedral of inclusion, all of them – black, brown, yellow, red, white – coming together in tens of thousands to shout, “Amen! Amen! Amen!” Inclusion. It occurred to me as Obama came forward and hugged Rev. Lowery that in Obama there is a generosity that lets him give the best words to other people to say. I have already seen that generosity, first-hand, in someone very close to me, and have remarked how special it is, in setting an individual apart.
Damn this blogging business. In the old days, newspapermen could watch the whole thing, then go back to the office when it was dark after everyone had gone home, and write the story for the next day. But here I sit, in the study, and I can hear the television from the living room. I refuse to miss any more of it. My God, there’s a whole day left.