When I was Henry's age, Jimmy Carter was trying, ineffectually, to bring our country out of the dark days of Watergate and all the lying and paranoia of the Nixon years as well as the lingering poison of the Vietnam War and the ripping social changes that occurred as a result. A few years later and still too early for my first presidential vote, Ronald Reagan was in charge. The only thing I can remember in high school was the day Reagan was shot, and by the time I was immersed in college and had found my people, those with broad and tolerant liberal ideals and traditions, Reagan's second term represented nothing but superficial cheer and jingoism. I understand now that Reagan was unable to utter the word AIDS until 1987, so huge was his discomfort over homosexuality, and one has to wonder if the epidemic had broken out in the "straight" world whether more might have been done to stem it and prevent the hundreds of thousands of deaths from the disease during his tenure and the millions afterward.
But then there's this:
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.
President Obama's Second Inaugural Address
And there was also this:
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.
President Obama's Second Inaugural Address
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. ... Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure -- our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
President Obama, Second Inaugural Address
I remember wincing when Reagan spoke during his later years, and for the life of me I can't remember a single thing he said in an inaugural address.
Not so my sons Henry and Oliver, and the experience they are having as kids growing up during the Obama years. They are at once nonchalant about his race and the enormous gains that his presidency represents and enamored of his cool eloquence, his smile, and his beautiful children the exact same age as they. They know he supports the gay parents of their friends, and that his health plan will help families of children with disabilities like theirs. They know that he not only believes in global warming but that he is (however belatedly) pledging to do something about it.
We watched the inauguration all morning, and while my eyes teared up again and again, finally spilling over at the ringing words of his address, both Henry and Oliver took it in stride, enjoying the music and even the wonderful poem that the openly gay, Cuban-born and American-raised Richard Blanco read in a Billy Collins'-like incantatory tone:
You guys are so lucky and blessed to be coming of age during this time, I said to my boys, proudly. This man is our President and he represents what is good about our country, what our country should be proud of -- you're lucky that when you look back on your childhood, he will be the man that you remember as our country's leader.
You know, I realize the inauguration used far too much corporate money, and I've never been one to appreciate splendor or fawn over celebrity, but I do revel in the words, and I heard them as authentic and true and resolved. I can't pretend to know whether things will unfold as the President wishes them to, but I can hope they do, and I can sure as hell impress upon my children that the ideals spoken of yesterday are the right ones, the honorable ones, the ones that their father and I espouse and support.
Reader, what did you think of the President's address and if you are conservative and dislike the President, what did you tell your children?