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Despite the populist romanticism of that particular activity cited in Elizabeth Alexander's puzzling-as-delivered Obama-inaugural poem (but props to her for being the first person to mention tire repair during a ceremony of state), I really hope that everybody took time out from their Goodyear-patching and hole-darning to listen to Obama's speech. What a treat. As thorough a repudiation of the Bush administration as could be voiced in polite/politically charged company. He even put down "worn out dogmas." Listen up, you creationist fools. This means you.
Other good news: we're going to value our civil liberties again; each scientific advance doesn't have to satisfy criteria set by a 17th-century pope; we're going to stop running around the world blowing up people just because they don't agree with us; we're going to pay attention to where tax dollars are spent; we're going to take the necessary steps to stop a bunch of rich white guys from robbing us blind; we're going to extend a hand of friendship to all kinds people (literally, all kinds); we're going to stop living in fear; by implication, there will probably be a lot less country music at the White House; and a lot of other good stuff. But most of all, the loud-and-clear message of Barack Obama's inaugural address was this: America is smart again. That was the best thing he said.
That's because smart works. Stupidity is something to be overcome, not treasured as another form of diversity. We've actually been there before. And in my lifetime. Making a Kennedy-Obama comparison is nothing original, but for those who missed it, the realistically framed can-do/progress-is-inevitable attitude that Obama espoused today is exactly what it felt like in 1960, when America voted to set aside the World War 2 mentality and embrace the modern.
Okay, Kennedy screwed up too. That Bay of Pigs thing was a really bad call, and sending advisors into Vietnam didn't work out too swell. And the Cuban Missile Crisis? Oy! The Cold War itself (an Eisenhower-era invention) was mostly a lot of distasteful fear-mongering. But there was more to the JFK administration than all that. There was not only an acceptance, but a celebration of, intellect. And a faith (no doubt exaggerated) that science and technology could take us somewhere better. During those few months, the country aspired to improve -- to value music and art and core values such as equality. It was a very good thing.
They killed Kennedy, of course, and with that, everything fell apart. The huge incoming generation lost faith and was forced to direct its energies to fighting the establishment rather than enriching it. There was, by the way, no choice in this, no matter what your wishy-washy relatives and teachers may have told you.
Now perhaps . . . just perhaps, we're getting that momentum back. It's very tempting, sitting here just hours after I literally felt the weight of oppression lifted from by body and soul (that was at 12:06 EST, when Bush stopped being president), to imagine that we're picking up where we left off in 1963 after a 46-year leadership and intelligence vacuum. Well, those four and a half decades have taken their toll, and it's hard to be idealistic without expecting the worst to interfere.
But then again, all Obama promised us in the first place was hope.