Wednesday, 21 January 2009

We Are All Welcome Here

As I was listening intently to Obama’s Inaugural Address, I realized that I was actually LISTENING. I wasn’t just casually tuning in to the occasion, as I have done in the past. Instead, I was actively focusing on the content of the words. I felt that President Obama wanted to communicate his personal vision for the United States of America, and I truly believed that the words, the speaker and the intentions were united.

I’ve always disliked political rhetoric – and distrusted those who wanted to be politicians. The gap between words and subsequent actions always seems too great, and thus, all of that speechifying seems rather pointless. I know quite well that the slogans and emotionally manipulative language are usually a calculated “message” written by someone else -- and ultimately, so meaningless.

In the last years of Bush’s presidency, I went out of my way to not listen to him. Not only did I feel that there was a yawning gap between the ideals (as expressed in the speech) and the real (what actually happened), but I also distrusted (and despised) his entire rhetorical style.

About a week before the Inauguration, Radio 4 broadcast “Bremner on Bush: A Final Farewell” – a program which analyzed Bush’s rhetorical style over the course of his presidency. Much attention was given to his folksy, foot-in-the-mouth ways – and several of the commentators concluded that this humanized Bush and allowed people to identify with him. As a fellow Texan, the folksy shtick drove me crazy. I always felt it was terribly false and insincere. He may have sounded like a hayseed, but he was the furthest thing from it. Texans who have attended Phillips Academy and Yale and Harvard Universities just don’t talk that way. He has always been the scion of a cultured and well-connected East Coast family, and portraying himself as a man of the soil just didn’t wash with me.

Google Bushisms and you will have hours of reading material. If nothing else, Bush was certainly peerless in his inept usage of the English language. In the Bremner program, one of the commentators suggested that Bush only mangled his message – or got his words all wrong – when he was bored or disinterested in what he was saying. Apparently, he was eloquent (ie, “interested”) in the country’s defense of itself, and linguistically awkward (ie, “bored”) when it came to everything else. However, if you look at the legacy of material he left us, this “theory” can easily be debunked. Bush tripped over his words no matter which topic he was tackling.

Even when he was beating the drum for the “War on Terror,” he was subject to troubling (and telling) gaffes – for instance, this classic example: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."—Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

Truer words were never spoken, but I’m pretty sure that he didn’t intend to send that particular message. Actually, my opinion on Bush was starting to slightly soften until I read last night (“Bush’s Final F.U.”, Rolling Stone, 1/8/09) about all of the “midnight regulations” he just managed to pass. Huge harm will be done to the environment and individual health and safety, but the energy and farming conglomerates will get to save some time and money.
There is a well-known saying in Texas: “You gotta dance with the one who brung ya.” You’ve got to hand it to him: Bush certainly always did that. Big business interests helped get him elected, and he was loyal to them to the end. As for the “little people” and the common folk, I doubt that many of them are feeling better off after 8 years of Bush’s residency in the White House.

Obama pointed out, in his Inaugural Address, that "a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.” Over and over again, Obama’s inauguration emphasized the importance of unity - of a place for everyone at the table. At first, I wondered at his controversial decision to include the evangelical minister Rick Warren, who delivered the Invocation for the ceremony. But after hearing Mr. Warren, who also emphasized the importance of unity and listening to differing opinions with “civility,” I realized what a truly harmonizing gesture this was for Obama to make. Evangelical Christians are a significant voice in the United States, and you can hardly claim to represent everyone without an acknowledgment of that fact. Joseph Lowery, the Reverend and Civil Rights leader who delivered the Benediction, put a tartly humorous spin on the theme of unity: we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around … when yellow will be mellow … when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. I liked the inclusion of these words because they acknowledged the racial problems of the past and present, but did so in a way that didn’t make it into a binary (black vs. white) problem. It is a marvelous thing that Obama’s very person harmonizes those contradictions.

On Sunday night I was killing some time in Borders and I came across an Elizabeth Berg novel titled We Are All Welcome Here. I’ve never read Berg’s work, but it has been recommended to me . . . and there was something about the title that called out to me. Coincidentally (or not), the novel is set in Tupelo, Mississippi during 1964 – against a backdrop of peace marches and voter registration efforts. The protagonist of the novel is a stubborn and often uncooperative teenager and in many ways it is a “coming of age” novel. In one of the key scenes, her mother - a white woman who has been paralyzed by polio – tries to get her daughter to recognize that a wheelchair is less confining than the frightening restrictions that the African-American characters are subject to. Through love and cooperation and the pooling of financial resources, the lives of these characters (black and white) are transformed.

No matter what else Obama manages to accomplish, his very presence is an embodiment of American ideals: that anyone can get ahead; that we are all equal by law; that we are all welcome at the table. I fervently hope that his foreign and domestic policies will live up to his words – and that there will no longer be a gap between ideals and expedience, the interests of some as opposed to the interests of all.


Anonymous said...

Bee, Like you I felt inspired by the speech B.O. made( unfortunate initials perhaps I should add the H for good measure!)
I felt a part of a historical passage in our time even though I only watched it on T.V.
Leaving this afternoon back to reality, I hope I am ready to plunge back in.

willow said...

Yes, our hope has been dusted off so we can have a new fresh start. Your picture of his hand on the Bible is worth a thousand words.

CashmereLibrarian said...

Eloquently written, Bee. I could not have read anything about Bush until November 4, when I knew he and his ilk were on their way out--I despised he and his hypocrisy so much. Now I just shake my head and look forward. It's nice to start thinking about the future again, and not in dread.

The Grandpa said...

Very nicely said, Bee. It's a new day for America. If President Obama keeps his promises and the rest of us do our part then we have every right to have hope.

Brave Sir Robin said...

A passionate Political post from Bee!! (See - what did I say yesterday? - Is there anything you can't do?)

I too have always loathed the false "folksiness" of Shrub. You hit the nail on the head; He is a member in good standing of the "East Coast Elite" that his party rails against.

Even if his Texan "aww shucks" persona was genuine it wouldn't work for me. Pardon me, but I want my President to be more intelligent than me. I want foreign leaders to be in awe of his mental and his social skills. Sadly, he seems to have had neither. (Remember the Neck rub incident?- Yeesh!)

Happily, our new President seems to have both.

I have to admit, I was less than pleased to see Rick Warren there. His brand of feel good Christianity has all the substance of a slice of Wonder Bread, but he keeps his legitimacy among the RR by throwing in some good old fashion gay-bashing. That being said, wouldn't it be nice to see the Political rancor Of the past 16 years disappear? I'm coming around to Obama's way of thinking on that.

Hope is a beautiful thing.

Audrey said...

Beautiful post Bee.

One of my children fervently asked, HOW DO WE KNOW HE'S GOING TO BE A GOOD PRESIDENT. Canny question. We don't. But at some point, we have to have some faith in SOMEONE for doing the right thing and that person, for me, is Barack Obama. I worked in politics so I'm acutely aware of how difficult it is to manage all the competing interests: it's easy to say you are against defence spending but who wants to be responsible for 3000 Lockheed jobs. But I think Obama is acutely aware of the hard choices that face him, and all of us. That was Clinton's problem, he couldn't make the call. (Bill, not Hill)

JaneyV said...

This was a beautifully written post Bee. The man does inspire one to listen doesn't he? At school today quite a few of the children spoke about how their Mums had sat them down in front of the TV last night and explained to them how special yesterday was. It is wonderful to me how acutely aware the world is of just how important this event was. I do hope that he achieves his goal to unite because goodness knows we could do with a bit of unity. And if not that then at least some tolerance.

Shauna said...

I thought to myself how attitudes are already changing so quickly as I watched news coverage of the pre-inauguration activities and also that of the US Airways plane that successfully 'crash' landed in New York. National news spent a lot of time focusing on what went RIGHT with that unfortunate event.

Things are indeed changing and I think the world (not just Americans) are eager for good news.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, it was interesting to hear your view as a Texan of Bush. It does look like a show. As an ethnic mutt myself, I love looking at photos of Obama’s extended family. It’s nice to have a new American ideal which is inclusive. Berg’s novel sounds relevant – I’ll be curious to hear what you think of it. I fear Obama’s greatest impediment will be the high expectations. No one can live up to the dream, but it’s still good to be dreaming instead of living a nightmare. Thoughtful post!

Reya Mellicker said...

In his interview with Keith Olbermann, Ken Burns says that America is a creation of words, and "their dangerous progeny - ideas." So true, so insightful.

I stopped listening to Bush years ago. Even the sound of his voice could get on my last nerve.

President Obama is a masterful speaker. I'm so grateful for that. I'm also grateful that he continually makes us aware that this change isn't about him, it's about all of us. His speech was truly great.

I'm hopeful for the first time in a long time. Onwards & upwards!

Nimble said...

I am thrilled that we can talk about President Obama now, no ‘elect’ necessary. The interim is over; onward, in at least a slightly different direction. Just the dropping of ‘president-elect’ had me sniffling. Aretha singing My Country Tis of Thee really got me misted up. And what a hat she had -- it was inauguration-worthy for sure!

Alyson (New England Living) said...

Even someone, like myself, who was once a card carrying member of the republican party, I always had difficulty with Bush. I didn't find his speech folksy, but rather patronizing. I felt like I was being treated like an idiot when he talked to the nation. I never voted for him. By the way, I'm an independent now, so you can all stop throwing those rotten tomatoes at me! ;)

I really enjoyed reading this post. My opinion was so much in harmony with your's. You articulated it so much better than I ever could.

Now I worry for Obama. I cried yesterday as I watched him embody all our hopes. I felt chills and excitement, as did most others. Can you imagine being him right now? The pressure to fulfill all that hope? I can't imagine the pressure and I worry for him. I hope and PRAY that he will do the best job possible.

Bee said...

Bon Bon - How funny that your exotic life in Peru is "back to reality." In some ways, watching it on television is actually better than being present. I'm sure that most of those people on the Mall didn't get the "up close" view that TV viewers did.

Willow - Don't you love that picture? (The Bible that Abraham Lincoln used; it gives me chills.) I like your phrase: "our hope has been dusted off."

Cashmere Librarian - I know exactly what you mean. I just hate the fact that his administration had two more months to do some damage.

The Grandpa - I think that putting a curb on lobbying and a freeze on gov't salaries is a good place to start!

BSR - Well, you are very kind . . . but I can think of a long list of things that I can't do. Never mind my shortcomings; I am really happy that we have an intelligent, well-spoken leader now. The "aw shucks" persona really didn't play well to the rest of the world. One of my Houston friends wrote yesterday to see what the English reaction seemed to be, and as far as I can tell, everyone is ECSTATIC.

Thanks, Audrey. You make some really good points. I'm hopeful that Obama is going in with a really fresh approach, though. He knows that we cannot continue to carry on in the Washington "business as usual" model.

JaneyV - Yes, unity and tolerance would really help move things along! America has become so gridlocked between two different cultural factions . . . and I have the hunch that Obama will lead by example.

Shauna - I'm going to use the NY crash landing as a good analogy! I hope that Obama can steer this punked-out plane to safety . . . despite the hazardous landing strip.

Sarah - I saw a picture of Obama sitting between his (white) grandparents - all of them with beaming smiles on their faces. It was a wonderful image.

I've already read Berg's book! I liked it a lot. She writes beautifully, there was great "content," and her characters were interesting but believable. I'll definitely read more of her work.

Reya - Ideas as dangerous progeny . . . that's SUCH a good thought! I actually found it frightening that Bush was never in control of his words. We need a masterful statesman now - one who can articulate his vision and persuade people to get on board.

Nimble - I loved that sassy Aretha hat as well! I liked that she sang the simple schoolchildren's song "My Country Tis of Thee" instead of that swooping, show-offy national anthem.

Bee said...

Alyson - You snuck in when I was commenting . . . plus fielding a fight between my children over the computer! (Good grief, and Obama has to deal with Israel and Palestine.)

Like you, I think a lot about the burden of responsibity and expectation he has to carry. I think that he has the confidence and intelligence to put really really strong, smart people in high places; he doesn't really have to do it alone. I'm also glad that he has a strong, smart wife -- and what seems to be a really solid partnership with her. I fervently hope that they will be kept safe -- by a higher power, or at least good security!

Beth said...

Great post! And I love the way you tied in Berg's novel with the past and present politics of the U.S.

(Elizabeth Berg is one of my favourite authors - try more of her work!)

Elizabeth said...

On the whole I try to steer clear of the political in Blogworld but your post is most eloquent, thoughtful and interesting.
Like so many of us here in the US, I feel energized and refreshed bY Obama. I like him more and more.
He seems sensible and pragmatic and someone who can get things done without playing favorites.
I think what got me hottest under the collar with Bush was his horrible hypocrisy.
I don't think he was the least interested in the fate of the American people - or anyone else.
Such hopes for Obama.
He has my full support.

Bee said...

Beth - I really liked the Berg novel. It was kind of spooky that I picked it up so randomly, and yet it fit into the day's (year's!!) themes so perfectly.

She writes so well; I'll definitely visit her entire canon now!

Elizabeth - I know what you mean about avoiding the political. You once wrote that you like to visit blogs to be cheered or introduced to new things . . . and I agree. And yet, some things are just so BIG that you have to acknowledge them. I feel like this blog has become a quirky journal of my life . . . and how could I leave this out? Political issues are usually divisive, and wearying, but I hope Obama's message of unity reaches everyone. (I cannot fathom not feeling at least a bit of the excitement of it all.)

Lisa said...

You blew me away with this. I would grind my teeth when I heard Bush and his faux Texan. I would throw things at the television when pundits talked about him as a regular guy. I would scream and run from the room when they spoke of his cowboy swagger.

All you had to do was hear him say one word and it all came undone. Rather. Except, in unguarded moments, he pronounces it raw-ther, just like any other East Coast elite/blue blood.

This entire post grabbed me, held and and carried me through. I'm glad that Obama is keeping his word about inclusion. I was especially heartened to hear him refer to non-believers to include people like me, as well.

Geri said...

Things have been really bad with Bush, and we really do need a strong leader. I hope Obama can fix all the problems. There's just so many, it almost seems impossible.

Bee said...

Lisa - thanks for the nice feedback! I agree about the "nonbeliever" bit. Do you think that an outright, open nonbeliever could ever get elected President? (An interesting question, I think. Who would be harder to elect? An atheist or a Muslim?)

Geri - You are right! It IS an impossible task to fix everything, but I would be satisfied if he could manage to fix at least some things.

Lisa said...

Hi, Bee. I think it would be terribly difficult for an open non-believer to be elected president because so many people think that one must subscribe to a religion in order to be a moral person, that one must fear some sort of eternal damnation or supernatural punishment to be kept on the straight and narrow.

Having said that, I think it will be an equally long time before we have a Muslim President because of our prejudices.

Fantastic Forrest said...

I talked to my mom, waiting for her to bring up the inauguration. She avoided the issue as long as possible, then said, "Someone turned on the inauguration in the waiting room at the doctor's office. (pause, pause) It was very nice. (This said in a grudging voice, then more enthusiastically) They showed President Bush arriving in Texas. There was a VERY large crowd cheering, welcoming him home." Beat. Beat. "Hello? Are you there?" I was. I was just struck momentarily dumb. A GAZILLION PEOPLE IN THE COLD IN DC CHEERING FOR OBAMA AND THIS IS HER TAKEAWAY IMPRESSION???

I couldn't resist. I said, "Yeah, there are a lot of people cheering that Bush is leaving the White House."

"Oh!" she said "I just don't understand all this hatefulness. I'm just not a hater. I don't want to talk about this any more."

Thanks goodness I have friends like you, Bee. Your post inspired me to write today's blog about the midnight regulations.

She said...

Excellent post! I stopped listening to Bush long ago, too! And Obama is an amazing orator!

I think I read that you went to Rice! Wonderful school! I'm a Longhorn, but I grew up in Houston.

larkspur said...

Just found your blog via Elizabeth. I, too, found myself listening to his inaugural speech, rather than just tuning in/out. In fact, I cleared my day so I could stay by the telly for this historical event. I just feel so safe now that we have such an incredible leader. I signed up, so count me #47 follower!

Gifted Typist said...

Beautiful, thoughtful post, Bee.

Just watched a Frontline Documentary on his rise. Can't help but think you would have enjoyed.

And oh, oh (!) how I miss Bremner, Bird and Fortune.
I saw the Bremner piece advertised on BBC R4 website, but it seems of late, they aren't allowing me access to their stream anyone, perhaps because I'm not paying a license fee. This is breaking my heart as I can't do without R4.

Bee said...

Lisa - I can remember, during the election, how journalists kept on having to point out that Obama was NOT a Muslim (and then, under the breath, that it shouldn't have to matter if he was) . . . but it does matter, of course. England struggles with the same issue because it wants to be pluralistic society and a Christian society at the same time. One of the really notable differences about living in England is that people will openly admit to being atheists. Going to church every week is the exception, not the rule. I agree that in the U.S. there is a tendency to collapse religious belief and morality/ethical beliefs -- and assmue that you can't have the latter without the former.

Fantastic Forrest - Wow. Your mother's interpretation of the inaugural events certainly was a feat of mind over matter. I am very fortunate in that my mother has not swallowed the Repulican "Kool-Aid" (as she always refers to it), but she is the minority amongst her neighbors and friends. (My parents live about an hour away from Crawford). She has found the past 8 years to be very, very tough. At least we have had like-minded friends to "vent" to.

BTW, your post on the midnight regulations was excellent. Although Bush was said to be very cooperative about the exchange of power, these regulations will foul the water in more ways than one.

SHE - I have been to MANY school in Texas -- including Trinity (undergrad), UT (postgrad), U of H(grad) and Rice (grad). I grew up north of Austin, but I think of Houston as my hometown.

Larkspur - Thanks for "following" me. (That sounds so weird; like you are a disciple or something!) I will come visit.

Gifted Typist - I was disappointed that this program that I referred to had already been removed from "Listen Again." You can't get Radio 4! Oh no!!

It's Just Me said...

The world is holding their breath.... waiting to exhale.

Peggy said...

HOPE.. What a wonderful word! It protects our minds with its expectation of good. It's truly an anchor for our souls, isn't it?

I enjoy reading your entries, Bee, so much. In fact, I have something for you at my blog. Pop over when you have a minute. :-)

Heinous said...

Excellent post. I never pay attention to inaugurations, but I did this one. I think it was mainly because Bush did such a miserable job during his tenure. I'm still in the "hope for the the best but wait and see" camp though.

Bee said...

It's Just Me - Tonight I was listening to "Any Questions" on the BBC and they were praising some of the steps that Obama had already taken in the first two days of his administration. I felt so proud! It was wonderful to not be embarrassed about my President.

Peggy - I don't think many of us realized how beaten down we were feeling until we a bit of "Hope" emerged again. (I will visit asap.)

Heinous - (I feel funny writing that!) Actually, your blog comments on the Inauguration did amuse me . . . it is possible that some of us (ahem) are getting a little too excited! The man is still a man . . . and he is going to have to work within the cesspool of Washington.

Dick said...

Good words, Bee. Maybe, just maybe this time...

sizzie said...

I stopped by from a link and am glad I did. I watched the events as they happened, but have also been inspired by the blogging community and the many fine posts...such as your own, speaking of a renewed hope. Thanks :)

Bee said...

Dick - I know that you are extremely guarded about getting too excited on this one. But surely there is a vast improvement?

Sizzie - Thanks for your comment, and thanks for visiting!

Lucy said...

Funny to see your note on the boeuf bourgignon, I just scorched my braised beef because I got so absorbed reading this, and the comments too. Not irrevocably however.

There's something about his speeches which I think more than just sweeps you along with rhetoric, and emotion; they actually demand that you listen and use your mind somewhat. They genuinely engage you. Though I have to say I do get a bit distracted with amazement at how he does it without apparently even glancing at any notes!

Rick Warren sounded fine, but knowing what he is and stands for, it's hard to stomach his presence there. I do wonder how much Obama can or should try to include/appease the RR; he can't really ever hope to get anywhere with them, it seems to me. I have a horrible feeling that if anyone gets to him, it won't be Al-Qaeda or even the white supremacists but one of those so-called pro-life crazies; they really are that scary. Joseph Lowry was just fab, though!

I never quite realised how phoney Bush's down-homely folksiness was; I think the stupidity was probably genuine however.

I was quite impressed, BTW, with Hillary's first speech as Sec. of State; she came across as very considered and serious, without the stridency and exaggeration of the campaign.

Did you read Beth about being in Washington on the day, and the booing that Bush got, how it wasn't so much in rudeness as relief?

That was a wonderful, lucid, wide ranging post; vintage Bee!

Bee said...

Lucy - thanks for your interesting and equally wide-ranging comment. (I'm glad that the beef wasn't ruined. Sometimes a bit of "char" is actually nice.)

I will look at Beth's post on this; I should read her more often as she is always so fascinating and intelligent.

Mixed feelings on Rick Warren. I had a bit of "I love everybody" this past week, and was willing to include even the right-wingers into that circle. But yes, I think you are right - sadly - about Obama's truest enemies. So worrying; especially, as I can't really understand it.

I much prefer an intelligent, literate, well-spoken President . . . not sure why everyone else doesn't feel this way!

Barrie said...

I think you will like Elizabeth Berg.

Bee said...

Barrie - Yes, I liked it! I read it in less than 24 hours.