Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"They Call Me MISTER President!"

Last year, halfway across the world, another Presidential election was held. But the election was largely a sham, since the only ballots that Mugabe holds any respect for are in the magazines of the rifles that his thugs carry, or the truncheons in their hands. Fifteen years ago, Zimbabwe was an exporter of food and minerals, an economic powerhouse of southern Africa. Out of that, Mugabe has managed to wreak utter havoc. The currency is worthless now even as kindling, starvation is rampant, and there are epidemics of cholera and even anthrax. The longer he clings to power, the longer his people must suffer the World Championship Rodeo of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

How extraordinarily lucky we are.

Today, for the forty-third time, one President has handed the reins of power to another President, without drama and without incident. Only a few of those transfers involved anything out of the ordinary. As President Reagan said in his first inaugural address in 1981, "The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place as it has for almost two centuries and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every-four-years ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle." Every four years, like clockwork, in good times and in bad, in peace and in war, no crisis has deterred us from this observance. While most of our allies also enjoy peaceful transfers of power, none have as long a tradition of it as we do. When President Washington first took the reins in 1789, the Kings of England and of France still enjoyed broad discretionary powers -- although the King of France would shortly lose them, along with his head.

I am of a mixed mind about the inaugural ceremonies themselves, though. Some of the goings-on I find a bit over-wrought. I have little patience for the preliminaries. So I pretty much ignored everything up to the oath of office itself. Unfortunately, the oath of office appears to have been administered by Chief Justice Ash Williams: "Look, maybe I didn't say every single little tiny syllable, no. But basically I said them, yeah." Note to short-bus Republicans: the oath was still valid. Now, if a zombie invasion crashes one of the Inaugural Balls tonight, that might be a problem, but I'm sure they have a contingency plan.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the oath, and the Inaugural Address. It was a pretty good one, I thought. It evoked FDR's first Inaugural without seeming too derivative. And he quoted Thomas Paine at the end. What's not to like? By reminding us of the crises we've met and mastered, he gives us confidence that we'll beat this one too.

Watching him deliver his address, it's plain that he's very comfortable speaking in public. This was something you never really saw with President Bush. Mind you, I'm not one of those people who thinks Bush an idiot. If he were, the F-106 would have killed him dead, back in the day. But he's got the most painfully ill-at-ease speaking style of any President I've seen, maybe even including Nixon. You never got the sense that he enjoyed it. President Clinton, on the other hand, enjoyed it maybe too much ... But that's a story for another day.

And now, the hard part begins for President Obama. When the speeches and balls are over tonight, starting tomorrow morning, he has to govern. He has to lead. If he can run the Executive Branch as effectively has he's run his campaign, and his transition, then I am guardedly optimistic for the future. You see, I still believe we can do just about anything we really set our minds to. If you should doubt that, go outside some night and look up. On the Moon, six flags and twelve sets of footprints bear a silent, eternal witness to what we can achieve if we plant our feet, fix our eyes on the ball, and swing for the fences. It won't be easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is:

These are the times that try men's souls.

The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.

Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.

You may not share my optimism. That's OK, it's a free country. But until the World Championship Rodeo of the Four Horsemen comes to your hometown, don't come crying "Apocalypse!" to me.

I intend to celebrate the curiously quiet glory that is our tradition: peaceful transfer of power. Going strong since 1789, and not done yet, not by a long shot.

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