Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Dr Strangelove has left the building...

It was a fantastic few hours watching Obama's inauguration last night.

Everything (apart from the Chief Justice's slip-up and the lateness of the oath of office itself) seemed to go perfectly.

I had been rather annoyed in seeing many of my friends Facebook status updates in recent days expressing hope that Obama would make it to the ceremony itself. I understand the concern, but did it really have to be expressed? I think it shows that many still had a feeling of disbelief that after 8 years of Bush & Cheney, something good could come out of it all. Did Obama really beat Hilary? Did he really win the general against bull-dog McCain? Are we that lucky?! I suppose, with the sheer enormity of what had happened and had gone before, it was reasonable to be weary and to hope that nothing bad would befall him during the transition. It must be said, I was rather relaxed about it all. America has turned the corner to such an extent that I felt it was going to go smoothly.

Dick Cheney in his wheelchair was a rather bizzare and in a way, a rather comical sight. Doesn't it signify better than anything, how moribund this out-going Presidency had become?! He also looked thoroughly unhappy and clearly didn't want to be there which added to the occasion! He did strike me as resembling Dr Strangelove. Seeing him being wheeled off, and Bush flying off into the distance, was as good as anything I witnessed yesterday.

Michelle Obama is going to be a fantasically fiery First Lady. As fiery as Abbey Bartlett off the West Wing? Possibly so - and there's nothing wrong with that! Having young children in the White House for the first time since the Presidency of JFK will also do wonders to the Presidency as an institution - not mentioning the fact that young Malia and Sasha seem like smashing kids who are lapping up the attention and the limelight.

I think, more than anything, the wonder of yesterday was seeing the whole spectrum of American society not only out there in Washington watching the inauguration, but doing so with beaming smiles that showed a hope and pride for what they were witnessing. The fact that Americans of all races and all creeds were coming together for what was in effect, a national celebration, was wonderful to see.

The speech itself was surprisingly businessmanlike. But maybe, we shouldn't have been so surprised. There's much to do and Obama seemed to want to give across the impression that it was time to lead, and that time was immediate. No sweeping gestures, just an understading that the work begins now. Quite right too. My favourite line in the speech? Easily the one where he said "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist". Fantastic stuff.

What of the future? Well, his announcement to start with of his intention to close Guantanamo was expected. But nevertheless, within hours of assuming the Presidency, it's a clear signal of where he means to lead his country and how he plans to deal with the outside world.

A few constitutional throughts did strike me. Once Joe Biden had been sworn in as Vice-President, in the intervening minutes whilst the orchestra was playing, if anything had happened to Obama, then I presume it would've been Biden, not Cheney who would've been in charge. More interestingly, because the whole inauguration was running some 5 minutes late, Obama hadn't actually been sworn in at the stroke of noon. As far as I'm aware, Bush's Presidency came to an end at that point. But because of the delay, his successor hadn't been sworn in by that time. So, who technically, was in charge between 12pm and 12.05pm when Obama swore the oath of office? Surely it couldn't have been him as he hadn't taken the Oath. So for those 5 minutes, was VP Joe Biden actually, technically, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America?! Of course, it doesn't really matter, but these little thing intrigue me!

An apt tune for the occasion had the organisers asked me for my opition, would've been 'Goodbye, Hello' by the Beatles. Goodbye Mr Bush, hello President Obama.

Actually, taking in the significance of the entire event, the best part for me, even better than seeing Bush and Cheney fade away into hoped for obscurity, had to be when Obama made his oath of office and said "I, Barack Hussein Obama..." That was enough for me. For America to have elected an African American with the middle name Hussein, and to hear him proudly announce his full name in front of a global viewing audience of millions, is worth its weight in gold and demonstrates better than anything else, that the only way is up.

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