Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Inauguration - Musings on Politics and Culture

Shaka back, Mr. President!

What an exciting, moving and historic day. I woke up at 5:30am to watch the proceedings of today's Presidential transition, the official inauguration of Barack Obama. His acceptance speech, as were his campaign others, was crafted with precise care. Nods to the nation's historic and racial past, unifying themes of hope and humanity, a renouncification of past Presidential offices, and a call for forward change and charge into the future. The speech spoke to the here and now, the current state of America in the 21st century. It wasn't overly lofty and idealized, realistic in the slow but necessary change to come, and hopeful in the new bridges to be built between nations, among class division, and across racial lines.

The opening prayer by Rick Warren was disappointing. I expected more. It wasn't crafted well for the event. I felt like he was trying too hard to make it something "Presidential" and not in tune with his usual style. He could have used the opportunity to open, frame and speak to the moment in a poignant, different, and prophetic way. This didn't happen. It was a rare opportunity to have that space and platform. The civil rights leader Rev. Joseph E. Lowery who gave the benediction, however, was great. He was succinct, alluded in clever but subtle ways to the civil rights era through his verbiage, and closed with humor and uplifting hope. It was a fantastic way to close the inauguration.
I unexpectedly teared up when President Obama got out of his motorcade car and waved to the people lined up for the parade. It was the determined frantically waving hands of the crowd that evoked emotion in me. It's what he represented to them. You could see it in their faces. That's when it hit me at a deeper level--we have a new President, and he is different, in many political, cultural, and personal ways. Indeed history is changing. Today marks the realization of redemption of a divided nation.

The crowd was racially diverse, not just lined with African Americans. And all alike shouted, screamed, and waved with enthusiasm to the new President and all that he stood for and represented. In this season of economic crisis, of war, of an emerging swell of change, President Obama represents hope, unity, and peace for the next generation.The new design of the Pepsi logo (shown on commercial on CNN) was redesigned to look like Obama's campaign logo. Pepsi's tagline is "generation." That the soda speaks to the new generation--the generation represented by the turning tide of change marked by today's Presidential shift. The shift of power in the White House represents not only a generational shift, but a shift in political culture.

Politics will be done differently. Peace and humanity will be valued over ego, territorialism, crusadings, and defense. There is a sense of personal security that Pres. Obama exudes, and it is what the American people need at this time. But this unwavering security is also what he will bring to international summits and on-going political conversations among national leaders. It's what the people need at this historic moment--a reason to believe that our old political structures can change. That new ideas and systems can be put in place. That old establishments can be challenged. That a new breed of leaders and legislatures will restore the guiding values that our nation was founded on. Pres. Obama represents hope for the dying spirit of nationalism and patriotism in the U.S.

The selection of clothes by Michelle Obama and the two daughters is significant. Not from a fashionista perpsective that notes the designer labels et al. To me, the colors they wear and the contemporary cut of the outfits bring a visual statement that a shift is occurring in the White House. Goodbye to old school, old boys network, of stuffy conservativeness. Of stiff suits, of muted gray and navy wear for the family. There is life, pizazz, and energy reflected in the color and style choice of this young American family. And with all four of their vibrant smiles, they serve and harken to, as John F. Kennedy did, the idealized "American Family" mixed with the grandeur of "royalty" found in Europe, Asia and Africa.

What has also been noteworthy, is the sensationalization and commercialization of President Obama. He has risen to celebrity status, on the face of every magazine, and having Obama everything--mints, DVD sets, flags, and you-name-it, with his face on it. The mix between politics and pop culture has been interesting to see emerge.

The inauguration itself was a tad pop-culture based. With John Williams writing a special song, the platforming of Aretha Franklin, Yo-Yo-Ma the violinist, and Pastor Rick Warren--indeed a new shift is occurring...the blend of pop icons and cultural references to a very formal, old-networked, stuffy, conservative tradition.

On the positive side, it was great to see African Americans take center stage in this event. When else would someone like Aretha Franklin and poet Elizabeth Alexander be recognized and given voice and recognition in an institutional practice typically limited to those in the small elitist network of the old-school, old-money, old-boys network.I was super nervous during the entire time that Pres. Obama got out of his car and walked parts of the parade. I guess I don't trust the CIA's level of protection coverage--too many pop culture movies on Presidential assignation attempts. I believe though that he has already made peace with himself and with his family, that there is a high level of personal risk invited in when he takes the Presidential seat. Not just because he's the President, but beacuse he's the nation's first Black President. He showed alot of courage by walking--courage that he isn't afraid...to be killed...to stand for his politics...and to do what he promises to do for the nation.

The best part of the day was seeing him smile as he watched the parade. I especially appreciated the "shaka" sign he made as the Punahou marching band paraded by. So cool. He didn't forget his roots, he still carries a senses of humility with him. Today is a day of celebration for him and the nation. But tomorrow brings much turmoil as analysts predict that he will begin to withdraw troops from Iraq as early as tomorrow.

Our nation waits...and awaits.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I was also nervous to see him walk around and greet the crowd during the inauguration. There is such a tremendous expectation, of hope and salvation even, that people need to remember he may need most of his term before there is an appreciable difference in the state of the union. The reaction from people from around the world was also very interesting, like a sigh of relief that we have finally woken up.