Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Nothing Golden to Say . . . but let’s pray for his success

I admit it. As I flipped on the TV and awaited the appearance of the First Family at the Capitol, some little part of my expectancy was tuned to finding out just what our attractive new first lady would be wearing.

I was not expecting this shimmery, greenish gold, a note of spring on the frigid first day of the new administration. More opulent yet more understated than what I expected, and frighteningly light. For a woman who knows the arctic blast of Chicago’s windy winter, was she trying to show that Washington offered nothing she couldn’t handle?

Maybe she was pointing to the bittersweet truth of the moment. To quote Robert Frost:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
so dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

As they strolled to the White House past crowds chanting the new President’s name, already the pundits were talking about further price drops on Wall Street, a Treasury Secretary nominee with confirmation problems, an unexpected delay in getting the new Secretary of State confirmed. I was thinking how much the new President must have wanted a smoke.

Ponzi and Morel may be correct in giving Obama’s inaugural day rhetoric a C+. It hardly mattered; the many symbolic resonances of the event had already filled our hearts.

But now: so much “work to be done,” in reviewing the tasks the government has taken on in the past eight years and the new tasks proposed for it, in judging not only whether—as Obama put it—but in what ways, it best “works.” (Thank God he’s young and patient and, apparently, tireless.) And while we claim the post-Civil Rights achievement that this day shows, we start to realize that from now on, ironically, we must claim a little less innocence. With a person of color holding the morally complex burden of our highest office, it may get a bit harder to depend on the prophetic voice of our minorities, whom we’ve counted on so often in the past to remind us of our higher commitments.

Of all the wonders of the day, our new First Lady’s evocation of Frost—juxtaposed with the image of a wind-blown Yo-Yo Ma pulling back his bow in attentive wonder as Anthony McGill sang out “A Gift to be Simple” on his clarinet—had for me the most resonance.

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