Barack Obama delivered the most unambiguously liberal Inaugural speech in recent memory. In his iconic 1961 inaugural, John F. Kennedy declared: "the torch has been passed to a new generation" — time had changed. JFK also had a progressive agenda, but that speech was delivered in a Cold War context and included some serious saber rattling. "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." In contrast, Obama was speaking to a nation that has tired of military conflict and is happy its longest war is finally winding down. Unlike Kennedy, he didn't have to tell us that the "torch had passed", that the clock had turned. Obama embodies that message; he is the new America. And that's precisely what seems so unsettling to Republicans.
As reported by Peter Baker in the Times, "Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, a member of the Republican leadership, said that from the opening prayer to the closing benediction, it was apparent our country’s in chaos and what our great president has brought us is upheaval. He added, we’re now managing America’s demise, not America’s great future.” From opening prayer to the benediction, just think about that — an invocation by the widow of Medgar Evers, a vice presidential oath administered by the first Latina supreme court justice, the inaugural of an African American President, a poem written an recited by a gay man, a benediction by a Latino cleric. Ah, now I understand. Mr. Sessions has made it abundantly clear. His words ring out like an echo of the post Civil War South.
Throughout President Obama's first term and into the election there have been clear signs that the ferocity of opposition he faced often had racial overtones. Sessions' words seem consistent with that, but we should be careful about interpreting them in such a narrow and superficial way. In fact, I don't think that race is what's bothering today's rightist controlled Republican Party. If you really want to understand their issue, consider the Representative's last words, "we’re now managing America’s demise, not America’s great future". Sure you can read that in economic or military terms, but that is to miss the point. The America that is dying and whose future won't be what it was is a White Christian male dominated America. It is that America which demographic studies show is slipping away. It is the same America that lost to Obama in November.
Sessions may have problems with "the other". He may resent that Obama gave a shout out to "Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall" and that he put so many Hispanics up front in the ceremonies. I should note that, unlike 2009 the President gave no nod to what he called "nonbelievers" (I call them transcenders), who have grown another 25% in the four years since. That will be the subject of my next post. But what really concerns the Congressman is that the groups represented by these symbolic locations, along with a young generation of a very different and open mindset, are becoming the majority. They are the America that is alive and who will be a different kind of great future.
What you'll hear from Republicans in the coming months is their unyielding concern about deficits and fiscal responsibility. To some degree, that will reflect a not so backdoor assault on government itself. But mostly I see it as a smokescreen covering up their number one anxiety. They are losing their grip on a past that is fleeting away and have not yet figured out how to be part of this changed world. To the contrary, they live in a dream world, the same one that convinced them a President Romney would have been addressing them on this week. They think that passing state constitutional amendments against marriage equality, as they did here in North Carolina, will stop a powerful train that has long since left the station. They think a denial of science can sustain against the hard evidence of climate change. They see their Tea Party victories as the beginning of a trend rather than the last gasp of a sinking ship.
No one should underestimate the challenge facing specific legislation, immigration, tax reform, environment and most especially gun control. There will be big battles over fiscal management and deficits, about Medicare and even Social Security. Republicans will have some victories, Democrats some setbacks. The liberal ideology expressed in the Inaugural of 2013 is still aspirational and not universally shared. But the clock is ticking and the past will be just that. This is not the first time that battle lines have been drawn between those who want to retain what was and those who want to embrace what will be and already is. Metaphorical blood may be shed in the battle, but the ultimate outcome isn't in question.
I call them Transcenders. To brand them nonbelievers is to assume religion and its particular belief system the human default. Worse it suggests that those who have left religion behind lack beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. My book is now available in print at Amazon and as in e-book form at Kindle, Nook and iBooks.