Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yes, I watched the inauguration very early this morning

But before that, while waiting for the inauguration live feeds to begin transmitting on Australian television, I watched Oliver Stone's W. The best scene was that Iraq invasion staff meeting, with Colin Powell dissenting. The rest of the film was okay, sometimes good, sometimes not so much. So, 'patchy' is the verdict. Josh Brolin's George W performance was great. Thandie Newton's Condi was a poor caricature that took you out of the film. Also, I wasn't a fan of the dream sequences.

Anyway, we went with the CBS inauguration waiting-game on Channel 10, because of the Couric.

I loved the way she would gently but firmly puncture Andrew Card's hagiographic takes on Bush and Cheney. For example, she neatly broke in on a Cheney-praising session with, "But Andy, what about those who say he's shredded the Constitution?"

And later - my favourite bit - after Card was talking about how he's going to be flying with Bush to Dallas, and he thinks Bush'll look back on his presidency with pride, Katie charmingly wondered aloud, "Is the President as impervious to criticism as he seems?... Andy?"

I love that woman.

Anyway, to The Speech. I've watched it a few times now, and I like it more and more each time. Actually, I've come to think it's pretty great. For posterity, New Matilda has the text of the full speech.

Here are my favourite bits:
  • "the nagging fear that the next generation must lower its sights"
  • "that for far too long have strangled our politics"
  • "to choose our better history"
  • "men and women obscure in their labour"
  • "But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed."
  • "when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage"
  • "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works"
  • "to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."
  • "a nation cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous."
  • "As for our common defence, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, [pointed close-up shot of George W] a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake."
  • "And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity" [NB: a great improvement on 'you are either with us, or you are with the terrorists']
  • "We will not apologise for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defence, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." [NB: a great improvement on 'Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we']
  • "For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers." [he said non-believers!!!]
  • "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history"
  • "And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect."
  • "Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history."
Mmmm, love that quiet force of progress.

Anyway, Ellen Fitzpatrick on NewsHour has nicely arranged my thoughts and expressed them:

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ellen, what about the speech? We've heard some comment about it already. How does it compare? You've studied other inaugural addresses.

ELLEN FITZPATRICK: I think it's actually -- I dissent a little bit, I think, from the sentiment that's shaping up and to say that I think it was an extraordinarily powerful speech.

And the pageantry and that element that Richard just mentioned was surely there, but embedded in it was a critique that we have strayed far from our founding. He asked us to choose our better history, and it was an unvarnished view of American history that he offered.

There was that phrase, "We have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, but we've triumphed over these tragedies and the hatred of our past."

And so, in that sense, he was seizing the historic occasion of his inauguration and using it as a way to call Americans back to their origins. And there was a critique here of where we've been.

He said, "We don't have to choose between our safety and our ideals." That, to me, was a reference to the abrogation, or so he would argue, I would say, from those ideals through the war on terror. So it was a very powerful cry to remake America by drawing on our fundamental historical values.

Also, I think it's the NewsHour's fault that I liked "Praise Song for the Day", the poem written for the occasion and read by Elizabeth Alexander. See, because of the NewsHour's Poetry Foundation endowment, and the poet profiles that go with it, I've been exposed to that similar way established American poets seem to read their stuff. It usually irritates me, as it did when Alexander began to read her inauguration poem. But I now realise that these NewsHour poet profiles, which I usually roll my eyes at, have corroded my intolerance somehow. Because as she kept reading, my harder feelings relented and relented and at about half-way through the poem, I was won over. Damn that NewsHour poetry endowment!

Then the inaugural benediction by Rev. Joseph Lowery - again, my feelings about him were framed by the NewsHour. He was on the day before the inauguration in a round-table discussion with Gwen Ifill, and he struck me as a very nice man. Oh, also a civil rights leader.

These were the bits I liked from his benediction:
  • "deliver us from the exploitation of the poor or the least of these and from favouritism toward the rich, the elite of these."
  • "to turn to each other and not on each other."
And, of course, his closing. What an adorable hippie:
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around -- (laughter) -- when yellow will be mellow -- (laughter) -- when the red man can get ahead, man -- (laughter) -- and when white will embrace what is right.

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.


REV. LOWERY: Say amen --


REV. LOWERY: -- and amen.

AUDIENCE: Amen! (Cheers, applause.)

I was actually tempted to say 'Amen' myself, in the 'here here' sense. But I restrained myself to grinning.

Anyway, if you missed the inauguration, I commend to you the NewsHour coverage of it: Ray Suarez's summary, Gwen Ifill's report, the evaluation and analysis.

Did I mention that I like to watch the NewsHour?


kaddie said...

I disagree about Newton's portrayal. It was actually one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film and the audience seemed more engaged with W. when she was on screen.

I don't think that was a caricature - Rice REALLY is that stiff and odd moving if you watch more than just the 30-sec news clips that most of us get to see. I watched several long pieces of her on YouTube posted by her admirers and THAT really is the way that she acts.

Elanor said...

Well I guess we'll disagree. Yes indeed, Rice has always struck me as brittle and odd and uncertain, I just don't think the performance got there.