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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Final Day

Submitted by on January 19, 2009 – 4:29 PM100 Comments

Resident sucker for oral histories yours truly recommends the one on Daily Beast about the inauguration changeover.

I nearly can't believe it's finally come: the last day of the Bush presidency. I watched his farewell remarks the other night; when he got to the part about how civilians slowly went back to their lives after September 11, but he never did, I could feel the bile rising. I didn't believe him, because he delivered the line with that trademark vile egg-farty smirk, and even if I had believed him…but then I remembered that it doesn't matter anymore. He's done. It's over at last. Whatever that guy tells himself about his own righteousness is no longer something I have to care about, and thank God.

Obama is going to screw up, and lie about it, and do all the other frustrating and human things all the guys before him did, but praise God he's going to do it while using correct English, and here's the other thing: as thrilled as I am to see this moment in American history, as hopeful as I am that the Obaministration can make meaningful change, as much as I look forward to seeing his portrait up on the wall at the P.O. for the first time, I think Obama's real gift to the nation is having restored our faith in ourselves to get things done. "Yes We Can" is a clever rhetorical tool, but it became something bigger; it became true. It's what made the post-election atmosphere in Brooklyn so friendly and fun, at least partly — because everyone felt bonded by it, had a sense of ownership in it.

I hope we can remember that feeling as we go forward, because Obama isn't going to get inaugurated and then create a bunch of jobs the next day, or pull the trapdoor on Iraq. But the great thing he brought us is the reminder that he doesn't have to do everything. We the people have reserves of extraordinary that we can and should spend freely.

If you have a dream, in other words…let's hear it. Let's do it. Why not?

All y'all in Washington, stay warm and share cabs. Everyone else: we made it. Party on this thread tomorrow.

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100 Comments »

  • Brigid says:

    Holy effing finally.

    I am starting an African American History class tomorrow. How fitting!!

  • 3pennyjane says:

    The cabbie who drove me to brunch yesterday said he won't be driving tomorrow; instead, he'll be celebrating his first inauguration as a citizen. "I will take a video camera," he said happily. "I think I will see good things." I will take a bus, but I think he's right about the good things.

    It's unbelievable how different this inauguration is from the previous two. DC bleeds blue, so the Bush events felt like hostile occupations (hey! administration leitmotif!); this one feels like a strange hybrid of transit nightmare crossed with the biggest coldest party since the Kennedy snowstorm was cleared out with flamethrowers. Serious conversations about long underwear and down clothing are suddenly de rigueur; people expect it to be a hassle of a day and yet can't stop smiling.

    Here's to That One. And here's to Us.

  • Molly says:

    I hope more of Obama's fans have as realistic a perspective on what he'll get done – and the mistakes he'll undoubtedly make – as you do.

    A lot of my friends seem to genuinely think the guy is going to change the country for the better overnight, and that he's going to put the little guy ahead of politics and himself. Which…he's a politician. I don't doubt that he's a good man, but politicians lie and go back on promises and climb over the little guy for what they perceive to be (what may be, what may not be) the greater good. (In Bush's case, of course, the "greater good" was what was good for HIM, and I would like to think that Obama's better than that, but…we shall see, I suppose. My expectations are honestly low at this point, but I do want him to succeed. Trust me, I REALLY want to be wrong and have him be as great as my friends all think he is.)

    Oh, and the 9/11 remark? There have been many, many times in my life when I've wanted to punch him in the face, but that one right there? Makes my list of "top five most infuriating Bush moments." Yeah, dicksmack, your life was way more directly affected than the people who lost their husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, children, parents…and it's WAY harder for you to go on living than it is for them. I FUCKING HATE HIM in ways I didn't know it was possible to hate someone you've never met.

    Maybe I'll be able to let go of that now that I won't have to look at his dumb chimp face any more, or listen to his mangling of the English language.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    My dream is that every little kid can read, and LIKES to read. To get there, I will give to DonorsChoose in months that aren't October and I will get my butt back into the Head Start classes as the Library Reading Lady. I need it!

    "with that trademark vile egg-farty smirk" made me laugh my big donkey laugh. Thanks!

  • It'sJessMe says:

    I couldn't even bear to watch his goodbye. After all, I've changed the radio station when I've heard his voice for the last 8 years, I wasn't going to start listening now!

    Thanks for that link Sars; it was really interesting. If you're into Oral Histories, I wanted to recommend a book my mom just sent that I've been fascinated by: Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project, by Dave Isay. I wasn't sure about it at first but the oral histories are about a page and a half each, and so real and compelling. I really love it.

  • Princess Leah says:

    Hubby, a naturalized American who participated in equal rights marches in his native Britain as a teen, is taking the day off to watch the festivities. He is all starry-eyed about the new Prez. I tend to be more fatalistic (a la Sars' keen observation that Obama will screw up & lie about it) but it is very cool to see his enthusiasm about America. Ditto for my college-age kids. They are excited about the transition of power this time around, rather than the 'meh' that they have been since they were of voting age.

  • Trasherati says:

    Party on, Sars, party on!
    I'm waiting for you to run in eight years, btw. You should get on that now.

  • tulip says:

    "We the people have reserves of extraordinary that we can and should spend freely."

    Well said my friend and well demonstrated by the Tomato Nation challenge this year. I know I'm going to get teary that 1-20-09 is FINALLY here!

  • Rachel says:

    Obama, who is scheduled to attend a giant event tomorrow that is All About Him, was in a homeless shelter today, painting the damn walls. Not just talking about doing stuff, but actually doing stuff. Sure, it was probably 15 minutes and a photo-op and all that… but the fact that he's out there the day before his inauguration walking the walk as best he can? Awesome.

    Will he be what we all want him to be? No, of course not. But it's a start. It's a start.

  • Betsy says:

    My dream is that policy questions about the environment, energy, and agriculture are finally answered with good science instead of pandering or wishful thinking! And I have some hopes for that now (although Vilsack discourages me…).

  • kathy says:

    When they called the election for Obama, I was in the midst of a Virtual Returns Party via Facebook and gChat with most of my friends, but I immediately texted two of them–one in California who was in the middle of a hockey game, and one, an Indian girl of Thai citizenship on the other side of the world. My Indian/Thai friend has her visa interview tomorrow in Bangkok; she expects to be immigrating here by Valentine's Day. What better timing could she ask for?

  • Heqit says:

    Speaking of oral histories, have you read this one at Vanity Fair?

    (In case my html doesn't work:
    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2009/02/bush-oral-history200902?printable=true&currentPage=all)

    I read it intermittently all day at work today. Fascinating, and by turns also infuriating and very funny.

    And the inauguration…I can't believe it's finally here. I don't know whether I'm happier to have Obama or to be rid of Bush. I'm not sure I'll believe it's really happening until noon tomorrow.

    I can't imagine what DC is like right now. I hate (HATE) crowds, but I almost want to be in one. I live 3 hours away from Washington, and even my town is awash with people who are staying overnight here and leaving at 2 AM tomorrow to go up to DC. I was tripping over people in Obama hats in Target, and everyone is happy and excited and wondering about the weather.

  • Jennifer says:

    A new poll basically confirms what you've said–we all think he is awesome and we all know it's gonna take a loooooooong time to fix things. But I totally agree with you–I'm down in DC right now and there's this total air of…possibility. People truly believe that things can get better, than they can make a difference, and they're willing to sacrifice to get there. It is unequivocally awesome.

  • Natalie says:

    My first inauguration as a naturalised citizen, and the first one I have a vested interest in. I feel so *free* tonight… tomorrow really is a new dawn, and this country will be all the better for it not being under a Bush administration. I did watch the egg-farty smirk farewell address and wanted to throw things at the TV pretty much all the way through… but I knew it was the last time, so it was far easier than all the others.

    Sars, thanks for being realistic… but for now, I'm going to enjoy the hope and change. It's like Christmas in a toyshop for grownups!

  • Hannah says:

    Sars, all I can say is, AMEN.

    The first four years were bad enough, but in 2004, I was just devastated. I lost hope. That was my bad–for not believing, for giving up, for throwing up my hands & feeling lost.

    But I have hope again. The haze of depression has been lifting. Not because it's going to be easy. It isn't. I don't expect it to be easy. It's going to be hard. And I'm okay with it being hard because despite the toughness of what lays in front of all of us–at least seem to be returning to the idea that facts & reality & proof will outweigh ideology. I don't have to be scared anymore to express what I think. I don't worry that my ideas will cost me my career.

    So let's get to it–bring it on. I'm ready to pay more taxes to help kids get a good education, or veterans get the health care that they deserve, or to develop public transportation that we all deserve, and so on.

    Let's get on with it. It's time.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Just a quick note: I didn't intend to be discouraging. The party atmosphere surrounding the inauguration is fantastic, just like the one surrounding the election was, and we can think soberly and moderately about the country's future on Wednesday.

    My point was that, when Obama reveals himself to be imperfect, and not all things to all people, as he inevitably must, his proven ability to inspire hope and action is what we should always go back to — this feeling we have, and have had, that change is possible, that we matter. Because even if he never does anything else worth a damn, to get that many people to feel that strongly (and in a positive way) is an accomplishment that will continue to pay off in years to come, because now we know what it feels like. I mean, we already knew this, because of The Annual Awesome of you guys with the Donors Choose drive. But we haven't known it as Americans for a while. At least, I haven't. I would have settled for "not thoroughly alienated, dispirited, and embarrassed," but instead: psyched! Actively!

    And of course he's not going to completely suck anyway (I assume), and people want him to do well and will move heaven and earth so that he does. I wasn't trying to pour cold water on anyone; I'm just saying that, whatever he ends up doing or being, Obama reminded us that we can keep our heads above it and not drown, and that's reason enough to celebrate.

  • Deanna says:

    The Bush farewell speech had me rolling my eyes until he hit the line about giving him credit for making hard decisions even if we don't agree. Then I went apoplectic. Dude, THAT IS THE JOB. The Presidency is the NBA, not gym class–you can't miss the hoop every day for 8 years and still get an A and credit for showing up. Making the hard decisions is the job that (for reasons beyond all understanding) you were elected to do. Grrrr.

  • Sandman says:

    I'm pretty sure Margaret in CO and I shared, ever so many miles apart, the same donkey-honk laugh over "that trademark vile egg-farty smirk," because, HAH! so true! and I don't think this post came across as negative. Much as it pains me to admit it, Mr. Obama IS going to make mistakes, and he will probably, as politicians will, lie about them. But there is reason for hope, because hope resides, as responsibility resides, with the people. I'm not even a citizen of your country, and yet I hope. I hope for your sake, as well as for mine. I hope that intelligence and eloquence, that engagement and respect, that curiosity and hope itself will not be scorned as they have been these past eight years by a fearful, self-seeking, angry administration. Enjoy the party tomorrow.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Y'all, read the oral history Heqit recommended. It's awesome.

  • Jen S says:

    Out here on the west coast, and fully planning to get up at 6:30 to catch it all on TV…

    The thing I'm looking forward to the most? Beyond proper English usage and repairs to our infrastructure and less embarrassment in admitting my US citizenship?

    A president who's a grown up. A president WHO IS NOT PLAYING PRETEND. I (and By I, I mean We The People) have spent eight years with an idiot frat boy and Emperor Palpatine hitting each other with fake light sabers, locking the neighborhood kids in the basement with the spiders, and "accidentally" shattering vases, lamps and stereo equipment. The idea that Dad has finally come home and will be putting the national house to rights? I'll bake cookies for that!

  • F. McGee says:

    I'm so excited! I actually had no problem getting up at 5 this morning, because this day is better than Christmas, and even though I'm a damned atheist, I love Christmas a whole lot, so it means something that this is better. Plus, I finally get to wear the awesome Obama on a unicorn t-shirt I saw on Tara's blog, so no matter how annoying classes get today, I win.

    I'm usually really cranky at this time of the morning, but not today! Weeeeee!

    (And, Sars, I completely agree with you on the Obama-is-a-human point – I've been trying to remind my normally very cynical father of this, but he'll hear nothing of it, which is kind of sweet, I think.)

  • EB says:

    There was a study done that shows that dumb people tend to overestimate their intelligence, while smart people tend to underestimate it. The creator of the study said his impetus was after reading a story about a bank robber. The robber had been told by someone that if you cover yourself in lemon juice, you can't be seen on video monitors. He was arrested, and the police explained they had seen him on video. His response: "But I wore the juice!"

    George W. Bush wears the juice.

  • Bo says:

    Both oral histories quite interesting. Although are there any of us who didn't know junior didn't like to read when he was running? It was a legendary shortcoming.

    Last minute vacation day. I wasn't going to go running around trying to find a television at the important moment.

  • funtime42 says:

    Before I left for DC in Fall 2004 to participate in a peace march, I put a series of signs in my front windows from the kind folks at impeachbush.org – Impeach Bush, Fund Education-Not War, Bush Lied-Thousands Died, etc. I took them down this morning and the sunshine streaming through them is almost Disney-like as a metaphor. I expect to cry through the whole thing.

    I'm not expecting miracles, but having a man with a conscience will be quite a difference. The evil is gone.

  • AngieFM says:

    Sars, I loved what you said about the "Yes We Can" slogan. During the campaign I observed to my husband that the difference between McCain's motto ("Country First") and Obama's is the difference between a statement and a call to action. "Country First" doesn't require anything from its adherents–"Yes We Can" does. It's active and interactive. And now here we are. What an incredible day.

  • Kristina says:

    I love how you put into words things I didn't realize I was feeling.
    I personally was over the Obama-frenzy roughly the day after the election – I was so exhausted, really, just tired of being freaked and worried that McCain was going to win, etc. etc. etc. But I find that I feel like I'm at home base, like when you play tag and the one spot you agree on before the game that's safe, you can never be tagged out? That's what I feel like today. I'm sick as a dog, freezing from the neck down and burning from the neck up, but I feel good.

  • Cij says:

    My dream? Affordable (and good) healthcare for all. Improvements in how schools are run and how the students perform. A healthy economy (and corrupt investments bankers in jail and their money confiscated).

    People taking personal repsonsibility for their actions.

    My inner spiteful pixie enjoys the sight of Cheney in a wheelchair.

    I know Obama is human and he has a tough road ahead of him and he will make many mistakes and possibly egregious errors, but I have hope that he'll fight the good fight. For the first time in 8 years, I have some faith.

  • Jess says:

    "I think Obama's real gift to the nation is having restored our faith in ourselves to get things done."

    Seriously; he's not coming in saying "I'll make it better", he's saying "WE can make it better, but we all have to help". I'm so tired of the selfish feeling I always got from the last administration, the idea that we're better than the rest of the world and we'll do whatever we want. To me, Bush was the ultimate Ugly American, wanting recognition for a job he was elected and paid to do, even though he only seemed to make a mediocre effort at doing said job.

    Obama's not going to fix everything, but damned if he hasn't made me more willing to help out and sacrifice to fix things!

  • Nina A says:

    My dream is for a country where I don't have to struggle because I don't have healthcare.

  • lareigna says:

    Oh, my….I had high expectations for President Obama's speech, but the Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction was a wonderfully unexpected cap to that. Not unexpected because of who he is, obviously, I just have never heard him speak quite like this before: something about the combination of his voice, the substance of the benediction, and that lovely little ending (brown sticking around, white doing right!) just warms my cold, black, bleak little heart.

  • Princess Leah says:

    Rick Warren invokes the Shema? Really? The most basic, fundamental expression of Judaism?

    'Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One' does not exactly align well with the concept of a trinity.

    Then again, if he is considering converting, I will happily perform the bris.

  • ferretrick says:

    That was some seriously weak-ass applause when Obama said, "Thank you to President Bush for his service," especially considering the size of the crowd. HEE! And then of course, after the address, the son of a bitch stood there golf clapping with that same egg-farty smirk (HA!).

    Ok, happy thoughts. He's gone and that's all that matters.

  • FloridaErin says:

    Let's hear it for the musicians, and for Williams' beautiful piece!

    Ever since the speech ended, Bartlet has been in my head saying "What's next?".

  • Kate says:

    When President Obama (God, that feels good) escorted former President Bush (God, that feels good) to the helicopter, the CNN folks were saying it was a nice sign of respect. All I could think was, "He probably wants to be sure he leaves."

    And I loved the huge crowd shouting "Amen!" at the end of the Benediction. Thanks for the moment, Rev. Lowry.

    What a glorious, hopeful, historic day for America.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @f'rick: I especially enjoyed the "na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye" singing that went on for like five minutes after Bush stepped onto the dais.

    Obama has had his first screw-up, too: he bricked the oath of office. Now that that's out of the way, let's go fix the country, which is totally doable, because you guys have been chipping away at it for four years now.

  • Beth says:

    Have you ever been so happy to see someone get on a helicopter in your life?

  • AngieFM says:

    I actually liked that Obama paraphrased the oath. He got all the important stuff in there, and didn't get flustered that he and effing Roberts were out of sync.

  • @Princess Leah: I hate to burst your bubble, but that phrase is both in the Bible (in the books of the Law, but also (I believe) in the Gospels, which means that they're also in the Jewish Torah) and in the Qur'an – it's called the "Shehadeh" in Islam. I don't think there's any chance of him converting to either Judaism or Islam any time soon. He was probably trying to focus on how much our three belief systems share.

    And as an American Christian, he probably doesn't need a bris either. He might (that's more a family/ethnic heritage tradition than anything among Christians), but I'd put money on him not.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Anyone else watch MSNBC and kind of love that girl in Rock Center who saw herself on the broadcast and starting shrieking? I was watching in a restaurant and the whole place fell out laughing.

  • Shannon in CA says:

    According to CNN, Roberts was the one that screwed up the oath.

  • K. says:

    "That was some seriously weak-ass applause when Obama said, "Thank you to President Bush for his service," especially considering the size of the crowd."
    I'm a Columbia alum and I went up and watched on campus – Columbia is VERY excited that Barack Obama, CC '83, is now the 44th president, so they had an event on campus for students and alumni. And the crowd (which was enormous – nowhere near the crowd on the mall, but still big), booed W. when he made his entrance, and when President Obama (!) thanked him for his service, there were chuckles around me but no applause whatsoever. It was awesome. I love that he's irrelevant now. And wow, Cheney looked miserable.

    Many friends and I are facing hard times: layoffs, lost health insurance, broke parents who had hoped to retire in the next five or ten years. And we've all joked "Wouldn't it be great if Obama just knocked out all the country's problems in his first week?" even though we know that's impossible. But I volunteered for Obama's campaign. It's the first time in my adult life (I'm 28) that I've really felt like the president wants to make this country better for EVERYONE. THAT'S what means the most to me, I think: not that we both went to Columbia, not that we're both black (although make no mistake: I never thought I would live to see a black man in the White House, and I'm young), but that he inspires so many to buckle down and do some work.

    And also: I am a tall black woman and I even have good posture, but how do I get it to come together like it does with Michelle Obama?

  • Diane in WA says:

    My dream is that we will rethink our priorities: Take care of the earth, use its riches wisely (stewardship), take care of each other.
    We are now all about STUFF – making stuff, buying stuff, having stuff. And having more stuff. Everything becomes a business, and everything – schools, hospitals, social service agencies – is being run according to a business model that values profit, couched as "outcomes," over quality of service. Even quality of life is equated with how much stuff you can accumulate.

    Dick Cheney in the wheelchair: was anyone else reminded of Dr. Strangelove?

  • Beth says:

    You may hate Bush with all your heart and soul, but there was no excuse today for the jeers when he came to the podium today. No class, those. I disagree with him on many things, and sure he's a terrible public speaker, but I truly believe that Bush did his best to serve our country. Sometimes I think that so many of the liberals I know don't realize that "tolerance" means that you have to tolerate those whose beliefs you disagree with, not just those you think are fine. So much for unity and getting past old divisions, it's all the same BS.

  • 3pennyjane says:

    @Sars: Better than hearing the "hey hey hey"…being in the crowd as it spontaneously kicked off. Raucous, off-key, and 100% commitment from everyone. It was more than worth the wait, the cold, and the hassle.

    And yeah, some of us totally burst into tears after he finished the oath.

  • Kida says:

    Good riddance, W. Don’t let the White House door smack you in the ass on the way out. (Or do. It’ll be funnier that way.)

    Words can't express the magnitude of my relief today. I don't expect Obama to be Superman, but I have hope that he'll give us the opportunity to own part of the US restoration.

  • Drew says:

    @ Sars: Actually, Obama didn't brick the Oath. I'll admit up front that MSNBC.com's video player was a little shoddy this afternoon (what with 9 gazillion people watching at once, it seemed like we were running out of internet), but as far as I could tell (and I think one of the news channels' web pages backs me up on this), Chief Justice Roberts actually omitted a couple of words from the Oath. Obama, always the consummate con law professor, helpfully reminded Roberts of the words before repeating them back after they were delivered to him correctly. My friend at work said, "Well, it's Roberts' first inauguration as Chief Justice." I replied, "It's the President's first inauguration as President, and he got it right."

    All joking aside, I was very happy with the inaugural address. Optimistic without being blindly so, inclusive (he even mentioned the plight of the Third World, which the One.org campaign, of which I've been a member for several years, petitioned him to do), and a wholehearted repudiation of every failed policy that has wrecked us for the last 8 years. I know it's going to be difficult for him–it's a lot of damage to undo–but I'm optimistic that we're heading back in the right direction. It's been a good day.

  • Mary says:

    I know I should be focusing on the positive, but 8 years of crap has gotten me out of practice, so one last swing. Roberts, is it so f-ing hard to get the oath of office right? Just from watching the History Channel, I know it by heart, for crying out loud. And I assume you could have had it on a cheat sheet if you wanted to. Thanks for ruining our holding-our-breath moment, douche.

    And bye bye, Bushie. Don't let the door hit ya, and all that. Good riddance.

    OK, sunshine, roses, etc…

  • Bo says:

    It's actually the Chief Justice who bricked it. Obama knew it was wrong, and paused, but what the hell, he'd been president for a few minutes already and we were all waiting.

    That VP oath is wild. It must be three times as long as the presidential one.

    I wonder why the president doesn't have to swear no one's forcing him to take the oath against his will? Hee.

    It was fun watching on the Canadian feed (CSPAN 3).

    The Williams piece was gorgeous. And I loved the diversity of the quartet.

    Which Supreme didn't show and why?

  • Sadiegirl says:

    Actually, according to people who know better than I, it was Justice Roberts who messed up the oath and Obama managed to get it back on track. I found the whole thing funny because at first, I thought Obama messed up and that it was because he was so eager to get going…I should have known he would be prepared.

    And loved!!! the benediction. That man needs to speak to us more often. I found his speech more poetic than the actual poem.

  • Jen S says:

    What's that tingle on my tongue upon observing Cheney in a wheelchair? Why, I do believe it's the sweet, sweet taste of justice.

    And I have never, in my entire life, heard politer applause than when Bush was introduced on the platform–not even when Alain De Botton came to Seattle Library to read from "On Architecture" and praised said building's design.

    But enough of them! I had a crush on Clinton, but I do believe Obama is True Love. And the benediction? I yelled Amen all three times. I don't care that Obama and Roberts biffed the oath a bit–he's human, they both are, as this thread has pointed out–and the point is, it got done.

    I really liked both the poem and the musical performances–Aretha's hat rocked my world. But the most inspiring person I saw (besides our new President) was Yo Yo Ma. His genuine joy in being where he was and doing what he was doing–if our country really does fulfill its potential, everyone will look like that.

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