A tepid Inauguration

Of course I’m chuffed that Obama was reelected, but I have to say that the ceremony itself was tepid.  Obama’s speech was lame and full of platitudes and borrowed words (granted, Inaugural speeches are not usually stemwinders), but he also invoked God more times than I liked.  Kelly Clarkson’s rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was unexciting (though others liked it), Richard Blanco’s inaugural poem was godsawful (I’m convinced that I could have written a better one), and then there was a benediction by Episcopal Priest Luis León.  Way, way, too much God in an inauguration for the president of a secular country.  The only part I liked was Beyonce’s singing of the National Anthem, which was awesome given the leaden nature of the song.

Don’t get me wrong: I agreed with most of Obama’s sentiments (except the repeated allusions to God), and admire his emphasis on multiculturalism, but I found the whole thing. . . boring.  Let’s hope his presidency is more exciting.

Now here‘s an Inaugural address (1961). I’ve embedded it only because Lincoln’s two fantastic addresses aren’t on YouTube!

67 Comments

  1. Rob
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Let’s hope his presidency is more exciting.

    Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Canning whistleblower exceptions does count as exciting. You want any more excitement?

  2. gbjames
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Any mention of gods in an inaugural speech is unwarranted. But I don’t expect to see the day when this element is dropped.

    • Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

      no, unfortunately, the god-addled public needs proper deference done to their hero. don’t worry, some day folks will tire of this fundie “revolution,” though not, I fear, in my lifetime.

  3. Somite
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    He mentioned climate change as a top priority. I’m happy with that.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Yes, that was one of the best parts; and I believe he referred to the findings of SCIENCE!

      • Jon
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        According to NPR, there will be full-scale replicas of both Curiosity and the Orion space capsule in the Inaugural parade (along with Bobak Ferdowsi, the mohawk guy, sporting a new hairstyle for the parade).

    • Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

      me too. Hope he works especially hard on this.

  4. Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I couldn’t agree more. The god crap was nauseating and so were the jebus blatherings.

    Ridiculous.

  5. litchik
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Do you still think he’s a closeted atheist?

    I don’t take heart in his remarks on catastrophic climate change or science in general because he said the same before. What we need to look at is his remarks and his policies on gay rights. He did not get there on his own – he was pushed. So let’s all together on climate and push. My little garden fairies know Exxon, BP, the Koch brothers et al are pushing like mad (are mad?) on the other side.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      I never really bought the closeted atheist argument. He is on the whole a politician that I admire for many reasons and would support if I were an American.

      But when I read Dreams From My Father I was not struck by the impression that he was an atheist or an agnostic; but that he was a consummate politician who could skilfully craft a passage or chapter that people could read whatever they wanted to be true into.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        I think the issue is that given the nature of politics in the US, it is almost impossible to tell if a politician is a closet atheist or just a marginally rational theist. It is unreasonable to think that there is only one atheist in the US Congress (and that one claims not to be an atheist). How to we detect who is in the closet and who isn’t?

        • Grania Spingies
          Posted January 21, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

          Honestly, I don’t think it matters what a candidate’s personal convictions are or aren’t.

          If they leave people guessing, that’s not necessarily a problem. Because if they leave people guessing then it seems to me that their public policies are most likely secular and evidence-based. In fact, the same can be said even for those who publicly do claim a religious affiliation: if their personal religious convictions do not play a role in their policy choices then it shouldn’t be of any interest to me whether or not they still harbor a belief in a god.

          Yes, it is disappointing to have an otherwise secular and enlightened President throwing around god-y language at an inauguration; but I think his policies are far more important than the rhetoric. He should be judged on those.

          Ultimately I think it is less important to identify who is secretly an atheist, and much more important to identify who believes in separation of church and state.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 21, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

            From a policy point of view you are right. But as a measure of how separate church and state actually are it matters. If the visible representation of non-believers is at or near zero when the percentage of “nones” is something like a fifth of the population then you can reasonably conclude that we still have a long way to go. It doesn’t matter (at least to me) so much what particular politicians’ private believes are, but patterns matter a lot.

          • Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

            Go Grania — I think you’re an aussie, aren’t you? I do wish you were voting here & bringing along a couple million of your closest friends.

    • Gary W
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      I don’t take heart in his remarks on catastrophic climate change or science in general because he said the same before.

      I liked the focus on technology, but his description of the risk was alarmist hyperbole. “… none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.” Ridiculous.

      • Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

        Don’ think you’d see it that way if you were in the burning land or the path of Sandy

  6. neil
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Well if you do not like references to god in inaugural addresses, you wouldn’t want to post Lincoln’s second even if it were available on youtube. It was great, but more a sermon than an address.

    • Filippo
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Seems to me that Lincoln’s second inaugural address was as much lecturing as sermonizing (acknowledging that sermonizing largely consists of lecturing, hectoring, admonishing), to the effect, ” This God to whom both of you appeal – whom does he favor more?” A nice way of saying, “A pox on both your houses!”

      The Second is a masterpiece. At the Lincoln Memorial, I couldn’t help but hug my dear wife and with quavering voice read aloud certain passages.

    • Filippo
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      Seems to me that Lincoln’s second inaugural address was as much lecturing as sermonizing (acknowledging that sermonizing largely consists of lecturing, hectoring, admonishing), to the effect, ” This God to whom both of you appeal – whom does he favor more?” A nice way of saying, “A pox on both your houses!”

      The Second is a masterpiece. At the Lincoln Memorial, I couldn’t help but hug my dear wife and with quavering voice read aloud certain passages. Lincoln is referred to as “The Great Emancipator.” I like to think of him as “The Great Autodidact.”

      I try to listen to JFK’s inaugural address periodically. I have certain phrases memorized and chime in when listening. The end always gets me: “With a good conscience our only reward . . . .” Nebraskan Theodore Sorensen sure had a gift for speech writing. Nixon referred to him as “Kennedy’s intellectual blood bank.” If I correctly recall, Sorensen considered his best effort to be JFK’s June, 1963 American University speech. (” . . . and we are all mortal.”)

      • neil
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

        A masterpiece without doubt. Great literature on par with Shakespeare.

        But in 701 words Lincoln mentions god 14 times, quotes scripture 4 times and invokes prayer 3 times.

        Interestingly, at the time, the Second Inaugural was criticized as mixing god into secular government. No fear of that any more.

  7. WiseApe
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    You think your anthem’s bad! I have to listen to: “God save our gracious Queen…etc” I’m both an atheist and a republican. Please note the lower case “r.”

    Almost sorry we won all those Olympic golds…

    • Miles_Teg
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Be thankful you don’t have to listen to the tedious Advance Australia Fair to often.

      And a verse from AAF that now reads “for we are young and free” is supposed to have originally been “for we are white and free”.

      Anyway, I like the US anthem (along with the French and old Soviet ones.)

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 22, 2013 at 3:24 am | Permalink

        “Anyway, I like the US anthem…”

        So do I. And I like it done by a band, not a soloist!

      • WiseApe
        Posted January 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        I also like the French anthem – at least the chorus stops you from nodding off. Perhaps the UN should encourage countries to adopt instrumentals? We in the UK could have the theme tune from Monty Python.

        I’ve just remembered, I’m also European. We need an anthem to play at the end of the Ryder Cup.

  8. Brygida Berse
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I think that the comparison with Kennedy is a bit unfair. The majority of Kennedy’s (admittedly effective) speech was a direct warning to the Soviets and their political clients, mostly Cuba. It’s always easier to give a good political speech when there is a specific enemy to be targeted; it adds clarity, but not necessarily depth of thought. It’s easy to declare that we are going to be the policeman of the world, it’s much harder to explain why we can’t.

  9. Jonathan Smith
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Sorry to repeat myself but-I just can’t get past Obama swearing his oath on a book jammed full of obscenities, to an invisible man in the sky.

    • mordacious1
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      He had two books, were they both beebles? I was watching it on the internet without the usual commentary.

      • Posted January 21, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Yes. One was Abraham Lincoln’s, and the other was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 21, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

          He didn’t swear on a bible? Really? That’s cool, if true!

  10. Jonathan Smith
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Wise Ape. As a fellow Brit I couldn’t agree more. I hate our National Anthem, I think we should use “Land of Hope and Glory” instead.

  11. Sheela Peace
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Oh, it wasn’t all THAT Goddy! Why was Blanco’s poem “godsawful? At least there was a rhythm to his words that kept non-poem people listening…..why no criticism of Episcopal Priest Luis León honoring Vice-President, Jill Biden? All, in-all, one big YAWN.

    • mordacious1
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      I liked Richard Blanco’s poem, of course this is from someone who only likes the poetry of Heine and a few others (Charge of the Light Brigade and O’ Captain, My Captain, etc). It was the least god thing there.

      • Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

        Please keep in mind, today’s poetry doesn’t rhyme exactly. They just don’t write “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” anymore.

  12. marycanada FCD
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I have always regarded Obama as a hardcore faitheist. Some of his biggest supporters – Oprah, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton make enormous amounts of money peddling religious fervour. I don’t expect to see much change within the next 4 years.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      It is hard to know with politicians. If they don’t pretend faith (at least) they have little chance of being elected to anything. I’d like to think Obama is a closet atheist, but that’s just because I pretend to myself that he is smart enough to recognized that fairies don’t exist. But I could be wrong.

      • marycanada FCD
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        I agree that it is hard to know with politicians but with respect to the Obama’s, I can’t help but remember a media clip that was shown shortly after he won his first term. Michelle (can’t recall if Barack was there) was visiting a group of families who were victims of the economic downturn. The following were the First Lady’s soothing words, ” ya gotta work a little harder and pray a little more”. Such a condescending and insensitive thing to say to those who are struggling. I lost all respect for Michelle Obama.

      • Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

        Agree

    • mordacious1
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      He has to cater to the godsmacked, but he over does it.

  13. Stackpole
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Robert Frost’s poem(s) were sure a lot better, too.

  14. mordacious1
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    While watching the Inauguration, I kept thinking, “This could be Romney, or Perry, or Santorum…so just be thankful it’s not”.

    • gbjames
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Always worth remembering.

  15. TnkAgn
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    “Tepid?” Hardly. Without regard to what we think of the rest of the show, including the many references to magical-men-in-the-sky, The POTUS was forceful and specific in his 2nd Inaugural, where he wasn’t in his first, citing climate change, gay rights and protection of our social safety net. I tend to agree with WaPo’s Chris Cizzilla: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/01/21/the-president-liberals-were-waiting-for-is-finally-here/?hpid=z3

  16. Posted January 21, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, with all due respect, I disagree. Maybe because I read the speech rather than watched it, I came away impressed. Granted, it would be wonderful to have an inauguration free of religiosity. But I found that invoking Stonewall, combined with the following, to be truly inspiring. And in language appropriate for a ceremonial speech, it laid down the gauntlet.

    “It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.”

    • TnkAgn
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      A gauntlet indeed. Well captured.

  17. Posted January 21, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    While I agree that there was way too much Goddy Jesus in the inauguration address – so much so that it was irritating – I am OK with today’s significant step forward being the explicit call for marriage equality. Today gays, perhaps tomorrow atheists. Baby steps.

    • neil
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      Gee. You mean we atheists can’t get married yet? I’d better tell my wife. :)

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted January 21, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        You mean that woman you’re living in sin with?

      • Posted January 21, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        Ok…?

  18. jeannette
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    I personally thought it was a great speech. Cheers

  19. W.Benson
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Re: “Lincoln’s two fantastic addresses”
    Jerry,
    Usually I agree with you but your oblique praise of racist Lincoln and the implication that his addresses were secular is bizarre. Not a 100 words into his first inaugural address, Lincoln says this!:

    “Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that—
    ‘I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.’”

    Later in the same address, Lincoln defended the return of fugitive slaves.

    Lincoln at first was comfortable with Southern slavery, but in his first presidential term political expediency demanded he ally himself with abolitionists. However, many, perhaps most abolitionists were also racists who believed slavery was degrading to America and wished to deport freed slaves. Influential creationist biologist Louis Agassiz, of Harvard, was an abolitionist of this stripe. During the war Lincoln’s government explored schemes to induce free blacks to migrate to Haiti and Panamá.

    As for religious overburden, Lincoln in his second inaugural address of 1865 called upon ‘God,’ ‘He’ and ‘His,’ eleven times, a tad excessive for what was effectively a one-page speech.

    My take is that Lincoln was an incredibly bad president who, as a side effect of political opportunism and war tactics, happened to abolished slavery.

    As an aside, Steve Pinker’s “better angels of our nature” are the closing words of Lincoln’s first inaugural address. The irony is palpable when we perceive that Lincoln is invoking the “better angels” to bring white guys, North and South, together to, rather than fight, condone slavery! Revolting . . .

  20. KP
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Beyonce’s “Star-Spangled Banner” was reasonably performed.

  21. Posted January 21, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    I’ve not watched my recording yet, but on CNN historian Douglas Brinkley just called the speech “marvelous…brave…bold…it’s gonna play well in history.” He especially called attention to the prominence it gave to climate change (which Brinkley implied will be the issue on which our current leaders will be judged by posterity); and how it linked the struggles of 1776, Seneca Falls (women’s rights), Selma (civil rights), and Stonewall (gay rights). The last he regarded as extraordinary.

  22. Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, I’m sure the damned GOP will make sure his new presidency will be as exciting & controversial as the last one. I don’t think the buggers will leave a stone unturned in their efforts to thwart him.

  23. Me
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    Are you saying you would rather have Romney at the helm?

  24. Posted January 22, 2013 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    How many previous inaugural speeches have included the words “Our gay brothers and sisters”?

    My husband and I shed a little tear.

  25. Posted January 22, 2013 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    Richard Blanco’s inaugural poem was godsawful
    I beg to differ. There was music in the words, and important topical sentiments delivered indirectly. I expected much worse – rhymes strained or trite, galumphing rhythms, sickly saccharine, maudlin ideas. You should see some of the awful stuff British Poets Laureate have churned out for Royal birthdays, weddings and funerals!

    (I’m convinced that I could have written a better one)
    You’re on!

    • Dominic
      Posted January 22, 2013 at 2:45 am | Permalink

      Ah yes!

      Who could forget Betjeman’s rousing lines for the Queen Mother’s birthday one year -

      “We are your people
      Thousands of us greet you
      On this your birthday
      Mother of our queen”!

      • Dominic
        Posted January 22, 2013 at 2:46 am | Permalink

        I think they do not take that too seriously which is why such poetry is often poor, but do not forget a good deal of poetry, certainly in ancient times, was intended as ‘praise poetry’, designed to flatter.

  26. Dominic
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    Does he have to swear by god? Surely that is optional?

  27. Diane G.
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    sub

  28. Filippo
    Posted January 22, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    “Kelly Clarkson’s rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was unexciting (though others liked it) . . . The only part I liked was Beyonce’s singing of the National Anthem, which was awesome given the leaden nature of the song.”

    Well, if Ah stood under hit currictly, Ah heerd tell today on that thar National Public Radio program “All Thangs Cunsidured” that Beyonce pre-recorded and then lip-synched her performance – the U.S. Marine Corps Band accompanying her playing live – and that Kelly Clarkson performed live.

    Was the weather that adverse for Beyonce in this likely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? (Would anyone who posts here and presumes to carry a tune let a little cold weather stop you from singing one song, live?) Did Clarkson similarly pre-record her song just in case the weather was adverse? It apparently was not adverse enough for her. I gather that it was all in a day’s work for the Marines, who “Overcome, Adapt, Perservere.” Last inauguration the weather was so bitterly cold that Yo Yo Ma and Company played along to a pre-recorded version. This is understandable considering the effect of temperature change on stringed instruments.


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