Tuesday, January 20, 2009

See Those Children Dressed in Red (and Blue)

I've been trying to remember the last time I watched the inauguration of a US President on TV. Probably John F. Kennedy in 1961, if we watched it at school. I don't remember watching Lyndon Johnson's inauguration in 1965, but who knows? It's virtually certain I wouldn't have watched Nixon's in 1969; by then I hardly watched TV anyway. Today was a work day, so I couldn't have watched the ceremonies for Barack Obama even if I'd wanted to, which I didn't.

In general I don't watch these spectacles, these extravaganzas. The last such a one that I saw was the opening ceremonies of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, because I happened to be in a bar waiting for a friend to arrive; I was surprised to find myself moved. Before that, the 1969 moon landing. I must lack the gene or whatever makes one susceptible to such things.

Perhaps I'll dissect Obama's inaugural address some other time. It's a cloud of gaseous platitudes that leave a nasty aftertaste. But for now, I'll recommend to you Chris Floyd's essay on the festivities, John Caruso's brief comparison of Obama and MLK, and this remark I overheard today by a student in the dorm where I work: "For me, I think it's the idea of change ..." Not the reality, apparently. I think that a lot of Obama's fans feel that way. All in all, I feel like I'm in a replay of 1993, when Clinton took office to the snap, crackle and pop of expoding conservative heads, and the frothy foam of hope flecked the lips of liberals and progressives.

Finally, Dave Lindorff had this article at Counterpunch, with a link to the video clip above. It's not really about the inauguration, but the concert that took place a couple of nights ago. Lindorff said:
Maybe symbolism is just symbolism, but the optimist in me says that Barack Obama's invitation to former Communist and life-long political activist Pete Seeger (along with Bruce Springstein and 89-year-old Pete's full-throated grandson Tao) to sing Woody Guthrie's anthem This Land is Your Land, and the fact that the once blacklisted folk legend chose to do not just the feel-good, approved-for-public-school-music-class-use verses, but all the verses, including Woody's long-censored "commie" verses, and that Obama was right there singing those verses along with the rest of the million people on the Mall, has to mean something.
That I had to see! Seeger looks remarkably spry for 89; look how he trots off the stage at the end of the song. There's one second, maybe two seconds of Obama at 3:28, who isn't singing as far as I can tell -- it looks to me like he's saying something to the person on his right. He rocks gently from side to side in time with the music, but I think he looks a little bored. More like "Who let these old hippies in?" than "Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh." Did Obama invite Seeger et al. to sing this song? Someone, I think, has let his optimism get the better of him.