Tuesday, 20 January 2009

See ya, George! The President's here

Barack Hussein Obama is the 44th President of the United States. I watched the ceremony. I couldn’t bear much of the early media coverage: a lone camera trained on the bleak St. John's Episcopal Church as we keep being reminded that Obama is inside; constant restating of the awesome mess the new President inherits; speculation about the colour of Michelle’s outfit. None for me, but thanks for offering. It was inspiring to see the throngs of supporters gathering on the mall, but for me, that singular moment in which Senator Obama took the oath and became President Barack Obama was the soft climax. I’ve chosen the Most Memorable Parts According to Mar below:

The partner
There were two reasons the oath (not the speech, although it was memorable for reasons you’ll see below) was my favourite part of the proceedings. First: Michelle Obama. The new First Lady took some getting used to. In the very early days, there were too many quotes in print where she sounded a little far up a body part I probably can’t mention in the same sentence as the term ‘First Lady’. Then we missed her for a while, and she re-emerged as this Michelle: still as brilliant and outspoken, but slightly more tempered and with more studied answers to difficult questions. She informed us that one of the things she had learnt from her husband during the campaign was when to exhibit restraint and quiet conviction. I imagine it must be difficult to contain passion and genius. Why, I often have this problem myself what with all my smartness. But she had to let her husband run on his campaign rather than her sound bytes. And she has managed that beautifully.

I was fixated not by his face, but by hers, during his slight fumbling of the oath. (Bush’s Chief Justice delivered the wrong wording in what turned out to be the final gaffe in a ridiculous administration.) Michelle’s face never left her husband’s. And she wore a look of pride, fierce encouragement and solemn partnership.

The prayer
There was one. A very long one. This I found surprising. I believe in the separation of Church and State, though I realize this is an issue with which the US is still struggling. Obama’s decision to invoke God during the oath, which earned the litigious wrath of atheist groups, is one thing. But this was a really long prayer. And at a time when the global, political tensions in which the US finds itself entangled are so closely linked with civil and religious freedom, I found it a bizarre inclusion.

The people
One of the greatest revelations from today’s event is that other ethnicities (you can say it softly: the white people) are starting to value black culture, heritage and history in a meaningful and intellectual way; and not just as something that belongs to the other, to be politely respected out of a sense of political correctness. The ‘civil rights movement’ style of some of today’s speakers that has seemed to scare so many in the past fit right in with today’s ceremony. Those present today began to appreciate the passion and the struggle behind those deep, strong voices, and felt a part of it.

The President and the peace

My friend Kat told me today of her complete repose in the competence of America’s new president. I feel the same assurance. Not because he is a messiah. But because the mark of a wise man is not to know all, but to know what he does not know. In assembling his administration, President Obama has proven his wisdom. We feel very close to him. We, who are thousands of miles away, feel like he is our brother. He feels familiar, like we should all have a pocket-sized Obama (a real one, not a doll) to carry with us and share jokes or discuss concerns. And we saw a slightly different Obama in his speech today: a more mature one who has wet his feet on the Presidency over the last months. We saw and heard the perfect reconciliation of Obama the visionary and Obama the achiever. Now we're ready to live it.

We all remember Obama’s Democratic National Convention speech in 2004. Back then, I thought, “This man needs to be president". Then when his name appeared on the ballot, I got stuck in to the two-year race. My friends and I read and discussed every story, ingested every political analysis, and when we realized we could dare to hope, we gained even more momentum. So now I'm exhilarated, but spent. And ready for the real business of governance. The second reason the oath was my favourite part of today was simply what it brought into being: President Barack Obama is here.

Photos by Jim Young / Reuters @ Time

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