One word was conspicuously missing from President Barack Hussein Obama’s First Inaugural.*
The first part-African President, who carries the dreams of forty million Americans into the House that up to now has always been White, did mention once the fact that already makes him one of the great figures of American history: “a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant”. But he did not use the normal and powerful word for this identity.
On TV, at the end of the ceremony, I saw a banner in the crowd being rolled up: “We Have Overcome”. Not quite true, and Martin Luther King’s dream was eschatology as well as politics. But with this inauguration, race has perhaps receded into one of the many facts of life that make for inequality, tension and misery in American society. This limited victory is still a great one and deserves its triumph. But where were the elephants and trumpets?
The new President did not throw any red meat from the podium either to the millions of young men and women who had put him there through the two years of his campaign: millions whom he has, remember, asked to continue as his virtual praetorian guard.
Like Lincoln’s First Inaugural, the speech was an appeal to all Americans for unity in crisis; an appeal for which both new Presidents were prepared to renounce all triumphalism and disappoint their followers. But it’s unity behind causes as they framed them. The olive branch was carried in a mailed fist.
This was not softness on Lincoln’s part; and neither is it in Obama’s. His enemies should understand that this man will stop at nothing to carry out his promises.
* Any bets there won’t be a Second Inaugural?