January 20, 2005

Inauguration events.

I neglected to set the TiVo to record the inauguration events, but when I came home at lunchtime, I started recording the CNN coverage, which stretches the whole length of the day. I'm hoping to see a repeat of the swearing in and inaugural speech eventually. I heard some discussion of it on NPR as I was driving home: a commentator thought Bush had delivered a crushing blow to Saudi Arabia, and there was chatter about how much he said the word "freedom" and how many times he referred to God. I'd like to hear this for myself. For now, I'm reviewing what the TiVo caught.

So, first up for me is the luncheon in Statuary Hall. Trent Lott describes a lot of the fancy trappings in the room, like a painting of a sunrise in Wyoming, two crystal hurricane lanterns (gifts from Congress to Bush), and a 100-year-old eagle-shaped lectern (which Lott calls a "podium"). Bush stands to give a little speech in which he thanks "distinguished members of the Congress and" -- Reaganesque sideways head flick -- "some who aren't quite so distinguished." Snicker. He says he was touched that Chief Justice Rehnquist made it to deliver the oath and there is much warm applause. Bush is "lookin' forward to puttin' my heart and soul into this job for four more years." Laura Bush is wearing a blindingly white suit. Lynne Cheney is wearing a light blue suit with a gray fur neck ruff. Closeup of Bill Clinton during the benediction: he's looking very grand. Now people are leaving the room. We see Bush give his mom a nice kiss on the cheek. Voiceover commentary from David Gergen, who says he's not picking up the the same "sense of hope" that there was at Bush's last inauguration. Apparently, everyone was feeling good about "coming together" back then, but they aren't now. They're itching for a fight. Even the Republicans are "restive." I'm hearing this theme in a lot of the commentary today: Bush is not trying to reach out to the other side, not showing a desire to bring people together. "The divisions are so deep here in the country, and the divisions with other nations are very deep."

Now Bush, Cheney, and their respective wives are walking down the Capitol steps. Hey, the Cheneys are getting ahead. The steps are miked so we hear the footsteps, including the click of the ladies' high heels. The men can't go downstairs at a manly pace, because the women have to step carefully in those heels. They stop halfway down for a military marching band playing a medley of all the songs you might predict they would play. There are some fabulous dress uniforms here, some in the Revolutionary War style, which look especially great. I wish the commentators would tell us what we're seeing, but they are yapping generically about pageantry.

The Bushes get into a spiffy Cadillac limo, and the commentators have plenty to say about the car. Now the car is rolling along toward the White House. Secret Service agents trot alongside it. Wolf Blitzer voices over that the "white stuff by the side the road" is snow. What would we do without the commentary? My God, there's some white stuff by the side of the road? Is that bioterrorism? Now, steam is coming out of a grate in the street, and Blitzer says, "Now, that looks like they're having a little smoke coming out of something." The commentators decide it must be steam, since the Secret Service men are not reacting to it. Well, at least he recognized snow right off the bat.

Now the car is passing the designated protesters' section. There's a banner that calls for impeachment and says "guilty of war crimes." A lot of people are holding up signs with a picture of Bush and the words "worst President ever." Someone is holding up a yellow frowny face. There's a lot of fist shaking. There are Bush supporters on the other side of the street, and each group is trying to out-shout the other. It's quite loud. Beyond the designated protesters' area, we see an occasional protester with his back turned on the motorcade. Two guys standing side by side hold cards that say "liar" high above their heads.

Waiting at the reviewing stand is Condoleezza Rice, wearing a sleek black fur hat. She's laughing and talking to Arnold Schwarzenegger. The President's parents and daughters are waiting at the reviewing stand. About a block from the stand, the President and First Lady get out of the car to walk the rest of the way. Bush's smile is so wide we can see his gold tooth. The commentators are quite taken by the symbolism of the President walking out in the open. It seems to say something about the success of the war on terrorism that the route can be so perfectly secured that this is possible. We see Dick and Lynne Cheney walking toward the reviewing stand. With them is Mary Cheney, whose sexuality the losing presidential candidate saw fit to intone about ominously during one of the debates, a misstep he will, I assume, regret for the rest of his life. The parade is in full force, including a big float of the unfurling Declaration of Independence.

Now, watching "The Jim Lehrer News Hour," I'm able to see the swearing in and the inaugural address. The show's editors seem to delight in displaying the gloomiest members of the audience. I'm touched by the freedom theme of the address, as Bush speaks to the people of the world and to those who oppress them:
All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

Democratic reformers facing repression, prison, or exile can know: America sees you for who you are: the future leaders of your free country.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.

The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people, you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice and America will walk at your side.

This is a profound and beautiful vision, and I cannot imagine the Bush-haters who turned their backs on the motorcade can have any better vision for the world. But, of course, I know, they think he's lying and they think, even if he believes in those ideals, he will fail in the attempt to fulfill them. So Bush's opponents have, at best, a pragmatism, a realism, a cynicism.

What did Bush say about God? I note that he said "freedom" twenty-seven times, "liberty" fifteen times, and "God" three times. Aside from the mention of God in the quote just above and in the final "May God bless you," the reference to God is in this passage, which takes a theological position that should be remembered:
We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. When our Founders declared a new order of the ages, when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty, when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner Freedom Now they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.

Bush excluded God from his prediction that freedom will triumph. God's will cannot be known. He takes his confidence not from a belief in God's favor, but from a belief in the human love of freedom, the "hunger" and "longing of the soul." It is a belief in humanity. God is mentioned one more time in that passage. He is the "Author of Liberty," to use the phrase from the song "America," which refers to the ideas of the Declaration of Independence ("all men are created equal, ... they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"). So Bush does not wholly present God as unknowable. Following the theory of the Declaration, he sees God as creating liberty, but his vision for the future, presented idealistically in the speech, is that the human love of freedom is what will prevail, as he promises to come to the aid of people all around the world. I'm sure Bush skeptics will see that promise as disastrously ambitious, but it is a beautiful promise, and those who hate Bush so much were once the people who themselves spoke of beautiful ideals.

Rereading this post, I acknowledge that one could see a contradiction in that last quoted paragraph from the speech. First, there is a claim that God's will is unknowable, and, later, there is a statement that history has a "direction" that is "set" by God. But I would say that the best interpretation of the statement is that God created liberty and this liberty is longed for by human beings, whose actions in pursuit of their desire cause history to have a direction.

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