Saturday, January 17, 2009

All Aboard?

Obama began his presidential journey this morning by hopping a vintage private rail car not generally available to the public (and once in service on the Southern Railway during Jim Crow), embarking from Philly on his way to the promised land in DC. There was much symbolism--even the two Amtrak locos pulling the train, numbers 44 and 120, were symbolic (do the math).

At a stop in Delaware the president-elect spoke about health care, the ailing economy, and ending the Iraq war:
"We recognize that such enormous challenges will not be solved quickly," he said. "There will be false starts and setbacks, frustrations and disappointments. And we will be called to show patience even as we act with fierce urgency."
Diminished expectations should not be a surprise coming from a man who was elected based on stratospheric expectations based in part on tearing down his predecessor. So while "yes we can" is still in play, "maybe we can't" is beginning to emerge. Such is the nature of government.

Obama's Lincoln theme is interesting considering the fact that Honest Abe once suspended Habeas Corpus during the Civil War and routinely squelched free speech by incarcerating journalists if their opinions were anti-Union, all in the name of saving the Republic. Obama has chastised Bush for much less.

As to Abe's journey, well he had little choice, being in Illinois and needing to get to Washington to start his term whereas Obama was already there. Lincoln chose the rails because they represented the pinnacle of technological advancement at the time and indeed, history would show that he championed the great transcontinental railroad, one of the largest infrastructure projects in American history and a giant leap in bringing the Union together (which is why most Confederates were opposed).

History also shows that the project became mired in scandal (Credit Mobilier) and featured the misuse of both immigrant Chinese and Mormon labor. It's doubtful such reality-based symbolism was intended for today but it may come into play down the line.

Still, presidents are supposed to inspire and Obama's theme is generally inspiring. Perhaps it will take a man of color to bring America together now when we need it the most. The challenges ahead are tough. Though it might be cliche, "united we stand, divided we fall", certainly fits.

In that vein it would be nice to hear Obama say--just once--that he wants to "bring the troops home from Iraq victorious, leaving behind a stable and more democratic Middle East" rather than boilerplate statements about "ending the war responsibly" or referring to himself as the one to reverse the "biggest foreign policy mistake". Alas, we can always dream.

MORE 1/17/09

Obama's speech in Baltimore was without a doubt marvelous. His tying of historical patriotism of that city with the challenges of today just about inspired me (not quite to tears). Sometimes I wonder if the problem the right has with this man isn't more his cheerleaders, both press and the mindless fainting fans, who have elevated him to messianic status while mindlessly bashing the one who came before.

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