Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Speech! Speech!

Friends who are lucky enough to be in Washington DC are going to be part of a projected 3 to 4 million people attending the inauguration of Barack Obama, as the 44th President of the United States of America. One friend has promised to share his photos, another will post details of the balls. Friends who are working for US Embassies around the world are going to enjoy the day (or night) celebrating this historic event.

I am reading a witty article that explains the history of Presidential inaugurations, the traditions, the speeches, the color of this day of days, celebrated (or shunned) by millions of American once every four years, betwixt the Olympics and the World Cup. Using historical references, reading every inaugural speech over the last 200 plus years, eyeballing every inaugural photograph taken since that of James Buchanan in 1857, referencing all the traditions that have evolved, the constitutional aspects affecting the event, Ted Widmer writes about how this celebration has renewed the spirit of the American people, or signified, perhaps nothing. My favorite part is his condensation of the theme of a Presidential inauguration speech (and a topic that has been beaten to death of late, with previous speech writers commenting on how and what should be said, what significance may be drawn from one word or another). Simply put, the speech includes the following process:

"1. I am not worthy of this great honor.
2. But I congratulate the people that they elected me.
3. Now we must all come together, even those of us who really hate each other.
4. I love the Constitution, the Union, and George Washington.
5. I will work against bad threats.
6. I will work for good things.
7. We must avoid entangling alliances.
8. America’s strength = democracy.
9. Democracy’s strength = America.
10. Thanks, God."

I also couldn't help but guffaw when I read that President Eisenhower's "God Float" in the parade looked like a deformed molar from a dental exhibit.

But the article, written before the second inauguration of President Bush in 2005, has it's solemn moments, reminding us all how words and actions don't always mesh. To paraphrase George Orwell, democracy does not whitewash injustice, does not condone complacency in the face of evil. The inauguration, tonight or those in the future, should be the basis for holding those in power accountable to their words. A promise for a better tomorrow.

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