As someone who came of age in the 70s, whose first political memories revolve around Richard Nixon, and who has ultimately lived in an era defined by cynicism toward politicians and politics in general, the election and inauguration of Barack Obama has been nothing short of energizing, exciting, and revelatory. When boomers talk about the promise and hope offered by JFK, RFK, and MLK and the tragedies of their deaths, those are things I’ve understood in theory, but never really felt. The hope offered by Obama, the hope Obama has offered to so many has finally made me see the legacy of those other figures in a new light.
Watching the inauguration and the festivities surrounding the inauguration has been a blast. The campaigning done, the nerves around the election in the rear view mirror, the inauguration has been a time to kick back and revel in the wonder of it all. Do I care about inaugural balls? Not really, but it’s just exciting to watch so many people excited about politics and bask in the glow at the victory party.
I even watched We Are One – The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial. Though I’m about to say a couple of critical things about that event, I don’t want to be perceived as the little black cloud that rains on the parade. Let it be said, I’m digging the parade. I’m glad this event happened, I dug watching it, but I got to throw my two cents in the ring.
If you didn’t see the event, it took place under the steely gaze of Abe Lincoln and essentially alternated music acts and little history lessons delivered by A List actors. The history imparted conjured up the ghosts of Lincoln, FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, and MLK.
My only beef with the event was that in channeling the spirit of great American leaders, thinkers, and policy makers, the message was delivered by celebrities. I’ve never understood or related to America’s feverish worship of celebrity, but was somewhat disappointed that an event that served to usher in a transformative moment in American politics had the feel and guest list of an awards show. If you turned the sound off, it would have been hard to tell if you were watching an inaugural celebration or the Academy Awards, Grammys, MTV Music or Movie Awards, Golden Globes, etcetera, etcetera.
As Obama clearly recognized in his inaugural address, this country is in crisis. We’re at a crossroads. The path out of our predicament is not clear. The country will need its leaders, its top thinkers, politicians, innovators, and scientists to help pull us out of this mess. It would have been exciting if people who actually embody the intelligence, the spirit, and the fortitude of JFK, FDR, Lincoln, and MLK had been chosen to deliver the historical message surrounding those great leaders.
No offense to the guy who played a talking panda, the women who played the pole dancing love interest of a washed-up wrestler, the guy who does a good impersonation of Ray Charles, or the guy who got the motherfuckin’ snakes off the motherfuckin’ plane, but they’re not going to be the people that pull us out of our national quagmire. They’re actors. They act in movies. They’ll distract us from our problems. And that’s great. Escapism isn’t so bad. And I’m sure we’ll need it.
At least the musicians got it right. They shut up and played their songs. They understood their role and the role of music and did it right. Well, everyone except Bono of course. Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Pete Seeger—did any of these guys use this stage as a platform for their own agenda? No. It’s called class. Bono on the other hand wasn’t content to let the music do the talking. Ego outshines class with this guy. Shout outs to his Irish heritage, to the Israelis and to the Palestinians. Dude. Not the time, not the place. Take a lesson from Little Stevie, From the Boss, from Pete Seeger. A little humility can be a good thing.