Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The 2nd Inauguration of President Barack Obama (I Heart DC)

I came to the Second Inauguration of President Barack Obama looking for inspiration. When I crossed Constitution Ave. for the first time of the weekend, I had already begun to find it. President Abraham Lincoln's Memorial stands strong and stoic on the western end of the National Mall. The Great Emancipator sitting on his throne, silently reflecting. I wonder if he ever dreamed that an American with the skin color of those whom he emancipated would hold the Nation’s top office some 28 President's later. The Jefferson Memorial is my favorite and always brings out my inner romantic. Jefferson sits on the water’s edge, somewhat separate from the others. Absent the sharp edges of his counterparts the round, softer monument is the perfect place to catch the D.C. sunset. On the Eastern end of the Mall is the most iconic building in Washington, the United States Capitol building with it’s the cathedralic dome and President Ulysses S Grant out front on horseback ready to lead the legislature inside to glory. The White House, the Capitol Building, the Statue of President Abraham Lincoln, and the statue of President Thomas Jefferson all face the Monument built to Our first President, President George Washington. The Washington Monument is a striking, rigid obelisk. It is the lynch pin that holds the whole thing together. The American Heroes for whom these monuments were built stood up in the face of diversity. They refused to simply adhere to the norm and profoundly changed the country around them. They did it with and through Strength, Intelligence, Creativity, and Perseverance. None of them are without fault, but these legendary figures weren't doing what they did thinking about how many cities, towns, states, schools, streets, and airports would be named after them. It's wasn't for the millions they would make. It was for the good of the Country. Their Country. Our Country.

It was fitting that the Second Inauguration of the first African American President of the United States was on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Standing in the shadow of the Martin Luther King Jr. monument, I watched as an elderly African American woman looked up at the larger than life granite Reverend with tears streaming down the sides of her face. It's said it all. Those who think differently are missing the big picture and I'm sure would be ready with a list of smaller ones. Barack Obama did not use race in either of the elections he won. There are those who say that the United States is “post racial”. Whatever your stance on race in Our country, electing and re-electing the First Black President is an important, historic achievement for Our Country, and I for one am Proud to be a part of that.

The 1776 Declaration of Independence, the 1787 United States Constitution and the actual Emancipation Proclamation securely housed at the National Archives are shining examples of Our history, Our strength, Our courage, Our intelligence, and Our power through words of action. Great men, gathering to debate, discuss, and form a country that less than 200 years later would be the most powerful in the world. In Our 237 years as a nation, we have already developed quite a rich and diverse history that is on display and well archived in Our Nation's capital. Washington D.C. has an incredible amount of American artifacts. In two days, I saw microphones President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used for his fireside chats, President Dwight Eisenhower's golf clubs, rough drafts of the Bill of Rights with handwritten edits, Kermit the Frog, Dorothy's Ruby Red Slippers, Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves, Archie Bunker's chair, The Spirit of St. Louis, the Wright Brothers plane, the Apollo 11 command module, Original Lincoln Logs, a broken into file cabinet from Watergate and the recording device that blew the lid off the President Richard Nixon's legacy, Edison's light bulb, President Washington's walking stick, and so much more.

The diverse nature of Our history was also on display on the walkways and sidewalks of the Capital. There were boy scouts, girl scouts, soldiers, Gospel choirs, families, hippies, suits, and what I’m sure are the regular few spouting conspiracy and redress. Different accents and languages filled the air. Old and young Americans filled the National Mall, finding history, and witnessing it. And let's not forget the button pushers. The merch army was STRONG on the streets of D.C. Stronger than any parking lot of any concert or event I've ever been to. Obama hats, coffee mugs, travel mugs, baseballs, coins, cell phone covers, bobble heads, t-shirts, sweat shirts, pajamas and lots and lots of buttons.

I was here for President Barack Obama's First Inauguration four years ago, a much colder weekend to be sure. In the subsequent four years, much has been accomplished. There was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, one part tax breaks, one part aid to State and Local governments, and one part investment mostly for infrastructure and green energy. The recovery since its passage has not been as fast as any of us had wanted, but it is going in the right direction by almost every indicator at this point. Most of the blame for the reduced speed of the recovery should be placed on the failures who determined, the day of the First Inauguration of President Obama to make Barack Obama a one term President and have obstructed ever since. The Affordable Care Act was passed. Whether you think “Obamacare” goes too far or doesn’t go far enough, it’s the first meaningful Health Care legislation I’ve ever seen. And I’m sure there are 21-25 year olds, people with pre-existing conditions, and people who were worried about hitting their insurance limit that would agree with me. The ill-conceived Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy for Our military was repealed. President Obama gave his vocal support to same-sex marriage. The long pre-emptive war of choice in Iraq has ended (for real this time), osama bin laden is dead and the President (with Congress) cut discretionary spending by $1,500,000,000,000+ (over 10 years). At the end of his first four years, President Obama made the $400,000+'ers pay a little more in taxes while not increasing Federal Income tax on anyone else from what they paid in 2009 and increasing the Capital gains tax on income from investments, totalling over $600,000,000,000 in increased revenue. It makes me think about what I accomplished over the past 4 years, and inspires to think of what I want to accomplish in the next four?

Standing in the crowd, listening to President Barack Obama deliver his Second Inaugural address filled me with such political and civic pride the tears welled up in my eyes, as well as the diverse eyes around me. It was a powerful speech at a powerful moment. President Obama's Second Inaugural Address was a call to action, on climate change, on immigration, and on equal rights for All Americans, be they women, Our "Gay brothers and sisters", or Our "vulnerable". It was an inclusive speech. A "We the People" speech. A "you and I as citizens" speech. The President was telling the Americans standing there in the cold and watching around the world that now is the time for action. Telling us, and the rest of the US government, that now is the time to stop perpetually arguing over what will work for all time and "Act in Our time". That Our acting as citizens is essential to accomplishing what we want to accomplish. When the President puts forth policy or initiatives, like say gun control, immigration, climate change, or clean energy, he needs Our vocal support to push that agenda politically. Putting aside its dubious financial backing, the Tea Party pushed and continues to push the policy agenda and elections for one of the two major political parties. The Occupy Wall Street movement changed the National economic conversation to income inequality. Popular movements work, they just never go far enough for some. By referencing Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall the President effectively said radical action by the public makes things happen in a government made by, for and of the people. If We the People want something done we need to help to do it. We the People need to be out there in front of it. The “Bully Pulpit” and Executive orders are strong, but without serious public support not enough of what we want will be achieved, especially if the current House of Representatives continues to act how they've been acting. There were lines for his opponents in the speech, discounting the “taker” meme his presidential opponents tried to attach to Social Security and Medicare and discrediting “the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob”. But more than anything else, this speech was about Americans coming together to get the job done.

As the sun went down on my Second Inauguration weekend, I stood at the Lincoln Memorial, on the stone etched with the words "I Have A Dream" - Martin Luther King Jr. - March on Washington - August 1963 and watched Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver that speech on (of all things) my phone to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day. Before I was done watching, two young black men and what I think was their mother gathered behind me to watch over my shoulder, looking out onto the reflecting pool as we watched how filled with people the mall was that day. At the end of the speech, the woman hugged me and said "God Bless You". I was so moved that the mention of god had floated right by me. It didn't matter. She was saying thank you to me for helping her say thank you to Dr. King on a day that I think he would have felt proud to see the First African American President Barack Hussein Obama have his SECOND Inauguration.

SQUID’s NOTE: On the cab ride back to Union Station, I realized once again that Washington D.C. a large varied city. I, of course, am drawn to the historic, governmental part of it. But D.C. is always good for good eats. A bowl of noodle at one of one of the many Vietnamese or Thai restaurants, not to mention Chinatown is always a good call. Georgetown's restaurants, shops, and bars are pretty damn good too. Set on streets lined with old brownstones, the Daily Grill boasts freshness because "nothing is kept overnight", Paradiso has some fine craft beers and brick oven pizzas you can watch them create. The pizza really is good, and I don’t usually try outside of the NJ/NY area. The District Commons also boasts good microbrew, and it goes great with a "Pig Board". I think every American should go to Our Nation’s Capital at least once. You will not be disappointed.