President Barack Hussein Obama's second inauguration pretty much dominated the political news this week.
Oh, wait, I meant to say "a lip-synching scandal" was what dominated the airwaves in what passes for "journalism" in America these days. Sigh.
I usually resist the urge to get sucked into these non-stories with all the rest of the mediaverse, but I've just got to weigh in on this one. I don't care whether a singer lip-synchs or actually sings as much as I care that they get the song right. Yo-Yo Ma "string-synched" his number at Obama's first inauguration, and nobody seemed to mind too much (it is tough to keep a stringed instrument in tune when it is 20 degrees out). As far as I could tell this Monday, though, nobody could manage to resist the urge to "interpret" the songs they sang. There was a lot of song-icide taking place up there on the stage, folks, and the only properly-performed pieces of music seemed to be the instrumentals from the military band.
Here's a brilliant idea: how about we not have divas, prima donnas, and egomaniacs sing at official occasions? How about we get people who will swear not to "interpret" or "rearrange" or otherwise give "their versions" of our nation's patriotic songs?
I'm not saying there "should be a law" or anything. Musicians are free to add trills, frills, and other vocal nonsense to whatever songs they wish -- just not, please, at the inauguration of a president. Jimi Hendrix did a ripping good instrumental version of "The Star Spangled Banner" (complete with aural "bombs bursting in air"), but I don't recall he was ever invited to Washington to perform it during an official governmental ceremony.
Some might argue that the versions performed were "beautiful," which is, as always, in the ear of the behearer (so to speak). The soloist in the choir had a great voice, I'll admit, but whatever they were performing simply wasn't "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," which is actually supposed to be a march, in 4/4 time (which makes sense, it being a "battle hymn" and all).
I would sincerely love it if the politicians and event organizers would reject, out of hand, any performer who might be expected to, after the event, tweet her thanks to "President Obama for opening for me." How about we get rid of the egomaniacs, in other words? Instead, I would vote for getting one of those singing police officers or firefighters with a wonderful tenor range. Or a high school group using a traditional music score. Or a war veteran with a nice voice, who could be relied upon to sing our National Anthem the way it was written.
Now you see why I rarely get involved in these spats. My curmudgeonly side comes out way too easily. I prefer, however, to think of myself in this regard as merely "traditionalist."
There was plenty of other news this week, since Congress had one of those rare weeks were they actually, you know, work for a day or two. The Republican Party is apparently still soul-searching, with such party stalwarts as Haley Barbour suggesting that maybe they might not make so many "stupid comments, offensive comments" in the future. Sounds like a good idea, but will the rest of the Republicans agree? Well, maybe not. A state legislator in New Mexico -- a woman, mind you -- actually tried to push a law this week that would make it a felony for a woman who got raped to get an abortion, because (are you sitting down?) it would be "tampering with the evidence" of the crime. Looks like Haley's got his work cut out for him, eh?
Hillary Clinton did a great job of testifying before Congress this week, including her own "have you no shame?" sort of moment. John Kerry was also impressive before Congress (the committee he chairs, in fact), but what was even more impressive was how he did not just blow off a protester at his hearing.
But this week, there can truly only be one pick for Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
The 44th President Of The United States Of America
Barack Hussein Obama
[Congratulate President Barack Obama on his White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
Likewise, this week there really was only one choice for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already won a record 24 MDDOTW awards, and none was so deserved as this week's twenty-fifth.
Now, admittedly, filibuster reform is an arcane subject to many -- even to those who are paid to comment on the subject. The San Jose Mercury News, for example, ran an editorial today which included the line: "Every four years, following a presidential election, the Senate can review and revise its rules." Um, well, no. Actually, the Senate is allowed to do this every two years, when "a new Congress" is formed, after each congressional election. But at least they got the main concept right, opening their editorial with: "Harry Reid blew it."
Harry Reid did, indeed, blow it. The magnitude of Reid's cravenness means he didn't so much "cave" as "cavern." Reid reportedly had enough votes to force "talking filibusters" back onto the Senate floor, but instead he cut a gentleman's agreement with Mitch McConnell which McConnell will, likely, soon ignore (as he did the last such gentleman's agreement with Reid on the filibuster, two years ago).
The deal is jaw-droppingly stupid. Supposedly, if the two leaders and seven members of each party agree not to filibuster, then no filibuster will happen. OK, let's examine the numbers of that deal, shall we? If Harry Reid holds his caucus together, right now (with no deal necessary), all it takes is five Republicans to stop a filibuster. Someone please explain how requiring eight Republicans -- including Mitch McConnell -- to end a filibuster is somehow better? In what universe is this improvement, Harry?
Senate Democrats are stuck with Harry Reid as their leader for the next two years. Surely at least some of them are having second thoughts about their leadership vote right about now. Reid should do us all a favor and announce that this will be (due to increased age, or health reasons, or whatever other face-saving veneer he chooses) his final term as the leader of the Senate Democrats. Then we could see, for the next two years, who would be a better replacement for him (the safe betting would be on either Chuck Schumer or Dick Durbin, at this point).
Senator Tom Harkin probably summed up the situation best, saying: "It's a baby step. Really, it's a baby baby step. I said to President Obama back in August... and I said to him the night before the election, I said to him, 'Look, if you get reelected, if we don't do something significant about filibuster reform, you might as well take a four-year vacation. This is not significant."
Harry's cavernous collapse on reforming the filibuster is nothing short of a slap in the face to all Democrats, most especially the majority of the Senate who were willing to vote on forcing real talking filibusters back into existence. This is just inexcusable. For his spinelessness this week, and for believing anything which comes out of Mitch McConnell's mouth, Harry Reid is, quite obviously, the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
As they say -- "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, call me Harry Reid."
[Contact Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 242 (1/25/13)
A few odds and ends, and then we're going to use today's talking points for highlights from President Obama's Second Inaugural speech.
Democrats in general did a pretty good job staying on the "immigration reform" talking points this week, which was a welcome surprise. Next week is supposed to be when some real news is made on this front, but it's good to see Democrats speaking with one voice, for once.
Normally, I'd use this for a humorous final talking point, because it really didn't fit anywhere else. Republican ex-officeholder Tom Tancredo lost a bet. Seems he was certain that Colorado wasn't going to legalize weed, so he made one of those "crazy politician" types of bets. Now that he's been proven wrong, he's swearing he'll make good on his wager, and actually smoke marijuana legally in his home state. Really, the jokes just write themselves on this one. Feel free to add your humorous take on it in the comments, as always.
OK, odds and ends out of the way, let's get to examining President Obama's speech. As I did four years ago, I selected the excerpts from the speech which I feel will stand the test of time. When history looks back on this past Monday, this (I think) is what it will remember from Obama's speech. Historic mentions of gay rights and climate change were notable, as well as the narrative the entire speech struck of strongly standing up for what the Democratic Party is supposed to be all about.
The individual items contained within the speech are, for the most part, overwhelmingly popular with the American public. While it is still an open question as to how much of this agenda Obama will be able to achieve, he certainly made the strongest case he could on Monday.
This was followed by a bout of amnesia inside the Beltway, as the chattering classes bemoaned the fact that Obama "didn't reach out to the Republicans" in his speech. It's as if the past four years never happened, or something. Here's a memo to the media at large: Obama tried that, in his first inaugural speech. It didn't work. In the immortal words of Joe Bob Briggs: "I'm surprised I have to explain this stuff."
Enough pundit-bashing, though. Let's focus on Obama's speech, instead. Each excerpt requires no introduction -- all of the following are Obama's own words.
While these truths may be self-evident, they've never been self-executing
Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they've never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.
And for more than two hundred years, we have.
Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
Ultimately requires collective action
But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today's world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we'll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.
This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America's possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it -- so long as we seize it together.
For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.
They do not make us a nation of takers
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. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
The overwhelming judgment of science
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.
Our journey is not complete
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths -- that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
It is now our generation's task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. 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. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity -- until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.
To act in our time
That is our generation's task -- to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.
We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect
For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today's victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
-- Chris Weigant