Second thoughts on a second term

Jan 19, 2013 by


At the Gates of Barack Obama’s Inauguration from Douglas Imbrogno on Vimeo.

SAT., Jan. 19, 2013 | At 8 o’clock tomorrow morning, I leave for my second Obama inauguration. We’re taking a crew. My wife, a certifiable Obama-naut, my 18-year-old daughter whose first vote for a president added to the tally of his second term, plus three of her closest mates. We have no special passes, we are just joining the  lesser throngs than came the first time.

Above, you can view my account of Obama’s first inauguration, on that uber-hopeful freezing day in January 2009. Back then, I did have a special pass. I’d arranged through Sen. Rockefeller’s office a special “purple pass.” It was supposed to get me onto the Washington Mall and within at least distant sight of our new president. As the text on the Vimeo slideshow that I created for my hometown paper, the Charleston Gazette, notes:

Thousands of people with official tickets to Barack Obama’s January 2009 inauguration were left stranded outside security gates. Some protested loudly. But then the new president began his speech and even though unseen, he was heard – on cellphones, Blackberries, iPhones and hand-held radios as the boisterous crowd silenced, tilted their heads, gathered in huddles and heard the first words of their new president on the other side of the gates.

In its own way, trapped in a nether zone between neither here nor there, the experience had a special power. First, there was the explosion. You hear it on the slideshow. A millisecond of fear and incipient horror ran like a tremor up not just my spine, I am sure. Had there been an assassination attempt? Then, another explosion. And another, in a sequence. Our stomachs unclenched. You can hear it in the voice of the woman on tape who says “That’s gotta be good news!” as we realize it’s a ceremonial salute. Then, the ripple of excitement as our new president began to speak and the disparate crowd began huddling up around any available audio source, held at the center of a ring of ears.

Obviously, much has transpired in these four years. This is no treatise on how far we’ve come or not come. There are enough of those on the Web and I have no special authority or especially astute views to impart. My disappointments have to do with the president’s record on civil liberties, the increasing back-door reach of the national security state into all aspects of our lives. The president’s unbridled and un-transparent use of drone warfare. His inability in his first term to take it to a Republican Party that decided the day of his inauguration to stonewall any real bipartisanship. Meanwhile, we are fiddling over debt ceilings while the environment burns.

Yet, still, I am glad that this man is president. It is like looking into the mind of a deeply damaged bi-polar individual to hear the comments on Facebook, on Fox and overheard in restaurants from those suffering from and poisoned by Obama Derangement Syndrome on the far right. Then, to peek into the mindset of the far-left in the form of Counterpunch, whose co-editor has co-edited and published the collection “Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion,” blurbed by one admirer as a book that smokes out “the real Barack Obama . . . the technofascist military strategist disguised as a Nobel Peace Laureate, but owned, operated, and controlled by Wall Street, Corporate America, and the Pentagon.”

I have wondered about one piece of the point of “Hopeless” — that the Obama revolution was “guttered by the politician’s overweening desire to prove himself to the grandees of the establishment.” Is this why, I’ve sometimes pondered, he has played tough guy, apparently, on “double-tap” drone strikes and veered not so far at all from the tack taken by the president before him (or, perhaps we should say, Acting President Cheney) on the rise and spread of the post 9-11 security state and the never-ending erosion of privacy and civil liberties? To prove his cojones?

Still and still. One need only imagine what kind of state the country would be in were President Mitt Romney the one taking the oath of office on Monday. John Dickerson’s Slate article on Friday, calling for more aggression from Obama in facing down the utter intransigence of the contemporary Republican Party, goes on to paint a phrase I like:

President Obama could, of course, resign himself to tending to the achievements of his first term. He’d make sure health care reform is implemented, nurse the economy back to health, and put the military on a new footing after two wars. But he’s more ambitious than that. He ran for president as a one-term senator with no executive experience. In his first term, he pushed for the biggest overhaul of health care possible because, as he told his aides, he wanted to make history. He may already have made it. There’s no question that he is already a president of consequence. But there’s no sign he’s content to ride out the second half of the game in the Barcalounger. He is approaching gun control, climate change, and immigration with wide and excited eyes. He’s not going for caretaker.

So, I am headed to D.C. to witness the swearing in of a man I still feel and believe in: “A president of consequence.”

~ Douglas Imbrogno | Jan. 19, 2012