Monday, January 21, 2013

Pomp--and Circumstance

John Boehner, his tan perfected for the occasion from its former mottled resemblance to the shifting colors in the grain of hardwood floor, to the more evenly distributed orange of a perfectly ripened tangelo, just barely covering the all-too-frequently present appearance of pre-speech imbibing just to the point of the controlled, slightest, heavy-tongued slur, strode to the ornate podium.

And so, in the Statuary Hall, the distribution of gifts--custom etched Lenox crystal to the President and Vice President, handsome leather bound mementos for all other attendees of the Congressional lunch--the pomp of the Inaugural ritual in its more intimate, clubbish, and, I imagine in the experience of Obama, necessary form, began.

The extended ceremonial of the day seems, for one who leans towards the introversive end of the scale, whittled, learned away through years of practice, a marathon of the multivariegated forms of political interaction--from gracious, heartfelt thanks, to centuries-old ritual, to dancing the first dance with your wife while Jennifer Hudson sings "Let's Stay Together."

Obama takes to them easily now, without the over-energized haste of his Senatorial days; embracing Sen. Leahy in a grateful hug, the movements of gratitude--the embrace, the face-to-face words of gratitude, the lean in, the grip of the shoulder, the pull away to look once again in the eyes, as he moved through the room, to the next, of so many, who awaited and deserved thanks, and who, so very often, appeared to offer them sincerely, awaited. A small degree of Lincolnesque slowness, of thinking of the steps, of self-awareness (or so we imagine, or infer from the mind of his writings and actions), a certain minute degree of physical exhaustion, and awareness of pacing--characteristic Obama traits.

As was the moment, after he had given his inaugural address, that he turned, told his retinue to wait. The writer, the introspective, the one who is aware that he wants to capture this moment, as the moments will begin to change around him, never to return to this one again, wanted to take it in fully one more time.

Obama might have felt the impulse to do this in 2009. But he would not have. And this certainty--this incremental increase in controlling his own fate, in command, in being less burdened by the height of expectation than moving in the continuum of leadership--is present in this moment.

Obama will always be thinking, rather than acting in a compensatory, justifyingly defensive manner from his gut. He will consider before acting, rather than leaping into the moment.

However, there is a sureness of feel, a sense of the more practiced and directed mind of one who has experienced the nature of those around him, has taken their measure and his; who has learned from some mistakes, and has internalized them both as lessons for action and less restricted caution. And a pleasure. Knowing that the second election would be the true confirmation of one mission of the first African American president--not only to be elected--but to be elected again.

After his swearing in, his daughter Malia turned to him, he smiled and said "I did it."

"You didn't screw it up, Daddy", she said, his daughter feeling her father's most direct concern with a child's centrality and immediacy--what Maraniss has referred to as Obama's care in "avoiding traps".

And, while there will be the countless haters, ideologues, paranoids, and even aside from them, rational political critics who may not concur with his daughter's assessment, there he stood.

The newly sworn-in second term 44th president of the United States.

The Happiest Vice President

Does anyone, has anyone loved the Vice Presidency as much as Joe Biden?

Yes, he's thinking about the Presidency.

But if he was not, if he were only serving the two terms as Obama's Vice President, does anyone believe that he would be a tragic, morose Lyndon Johnson-via-Robert-Caro Vice President, stunted, crippled, depressed, frustrated, feeling as if his life dreams and career were at an end?


Biden is not only seemingly impervious to the less felicitous characterizations that at times swim around them, reflecting them away with a native sunny disposition that, yes, is professional, but is also a genuine, automatic enjoyment, but brings far more to the table than the hoi polloi are often willing to give credit: A remarkable ability to charm with intellect and flexibility, with genuine care and enjoyment, but also with a powerfully sustained thought--each time.

Yes, he emerges in shades, and who knows what ultimate dreams lay behind them; yes he truly enjoys an attractive woman. But he also brings joy to those who he immediately senses need his attention, his care--he has practiced with all types, and he is willing to bring that practice to the task.

He is not condescending. He is not self-aggrandizing. People love Joe.

But while walking that fine line between being the populist and knowing that he is being one, he is more aware than the more simple lines around him that are sometimes drawn.

He is not an introspective, introversive, extremely careful Obama. And he will never be. And that will be an issue, should he become President.

He does have a tendency to roll over himself, carried by the stream of words and feeling, and this has not accrued to his benefit. He is still learning--at this stage of his life--to instill the capacity to catch himself.

But he is happy in his role. He loves the people. He balances a more introspective man, who also loves the people, but is not so fulsome and expansive in demonstration of such.

He is Joe. And he is the happiest Vice President we have seen in some time.

4 years: Less Sober, Less Cautious, More Certain

Osama Bin Laden.

Debt ceiling, versions past and prologue.

Romney, who already seems to have half-faded into a spectral form.

Health care town halls, which now seem ancient, yet still striking in their call to shrill irrationality.

4 years.

I remember seeing the crowds of young people from my balcony, early on the morning of Inauguration Day, so filled with enthusiasm to reach the Mall that they raced towards the gates, like excited troops storming a hill, ready to take their nation back.

Obama's speech that day struck me as unusually sober--it left me with the feeling that he was scaling down expectations, a tone of seriousness, but also that if he could merely leave the nation in as good hands as when he entered, this would be a laudable, sensible target.

This tone--not too high, not too low--has shot through his Presidency, with intelligence and wisdom, with caution and over caution, as Americans became accustomed to a charismatic leader who at his core is not a spontaneous charismatic, but an introspective, at times introverted intellectual, who carries both vision and caution; his well noted pragmatism, a combination that likely was honed as it brought him to this place and position, and one, perhaps, that he has most wisely relied on, knowing that once reaching to extremism, in this nation, at this time, he would not be able to reach back.

And they would call him an extremist in any event.

He knew what they would call him if he actually began to act within the slightest parameters of their delusional fantasies.

So we are here. And crowds gather. We are in the slight remaining overcast of tragedy--one could not help but wonder just what he thought of as he thought of the events in Newtown, so close to his inauguration.

Yet, I am watching a crowd of children singing, and we are here.