I didn’t want to add up to the current hysteria and am grateful to Renford to have summed up all my thoughts with his deeper African American insight….I’m sure you’ll appreciate and I also invite you to check his excellent website with lots of other resources
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA)
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Page A7, Opinion
Guest Columnist: Renford Reese, Ph.D.
The Obama Inauguration: The Man, Moment, and Message
The traits of our greatest Presidents have been reflected in their inaugural addresses: brilliance, wit, charisma, charm, and vision with a common touch. President Obama’s inaugural address was reflective of these dynamic traits. Indeed, throughout the grueling campaign process and beyond Obama has displayed the brilliance of Thomas Jefferson, the vision of John F. Kennedy, the charm of Ronald Reagan, and the charisma of Bill Clinton. He has also displayed the common touch, which has enabled him to connect with millions of ordinary people. A masterful bridge-builder, Obama is the embodiment of his call for reconciliation.
The inaugural addresses of the past have largely focused on the crisis du jour. Speaking in the aftermath of a costly Civil War, in his second inauguration in 1865 President Abraham Lincoln stated “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…” Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address focused mostly on the dynamics of the Cold War. Reagan’s inaugural address in 1981 focused largely on the economic recession at hand. Since Lincoln’s address there has been little content in inaugural speeches about bridging our internal domestic divides.
President Obama’s speech, like the speeches of the past, focused on the crises of the day. Obama, however, went beyond this rhetorical necessity to urge Americans to transcend their differences and unite. About thirteen minutes into his speech, Obama stated, “We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.”
Obama went on to eloquently state, “And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve…” Indeed, this inauguration was a symbolic manifestation of Lincoln’s call “to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
Abandoning the counterproductive “You’re either with us or against us” rhetoric, our new President told the world, “know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.“
There are only a few moments that the world collectively remembers. President Obama’s inauguration will be one of those universally recognized moments. The intergenerational mosaic of people who traveled to Washington D.C. to witness the inauguration was inspirational. Each person had their own motivations for attending this historic event.
I am sure there was an 80-year old African American man at the inauguration that suffered through the injustices of “Jim Crow” and never thought he would see this day and came to witness a “Dream Deferred.” I am sure there was a 60-year old female at the inauguration that fought tirelessly with Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, and other women trying to secure women’s rights in this nation. This woman came to the inauguration because this moment represented the type of progress she had fought for over the years.
There was probably a 40-year old gay man there that has witnessed the progress and setbacks of the gay rights movement over the past two decades. He initially came to protest Rick Warren’s invocation but left the inauguration forgiving President Obama and Pastor Warren. There was probably a 20-year old Hispanic immigrant at the inauguration that has felt antagonized by the xenophobic rhetoric regarding immigration over the past few years. He came to the inauguration to feel the esprit de corps of America and to be motivated by this team spirit.
I am sure there were children of every ethnic background that were dragged to the inauguration by their parents and told that with hard work, dedication, and discipline that they could one day be sworn in as President of the U.S. like Obama.
Finally, there were probably thousands of international visitors attending the inauguration who have grown tired and weary of the image of the Ugly American. They came to see a refreshing and more attractive image. They also came to witness the reality of the hackneyed cliché—-that in America you can be anything you want to be.
The convergence of the myriad of stories at this inauguration reflects the complexities of American society and the triumph of the American ideal. The power of this moment was electrifying. Millions of tears dropped during the inauguration for reasons that we can only begin to explain. The sum of these tears, however, reflects the fact that America has never experienced such collective pride, joy, and unity. In some way, the masses of people that traveled to the inauguration are idealists—-believing that this time, America is finally living up to its own expectations.
–Renford Reese, Ph.D., is a professor in the political science department and director of the Colorful Flags program at Cal Poly Pomona. He is the author of American Bravado (2008), Prison Race (2006), and the widely discussed American Paradox: Young Black Men (2004). See his work at: http://www.RenfordReese.com