You probably think I’m going to start moaning about the $150,000,000 cost of the inauguration. That’s certainly distressing, but I have a more philosophical concern. The excitement about the Obama inauguration was certainly out of control. Days before the inauguration the major networks were already devoting hours of prime airtime to puff pieces on Obama and his family. My satellite system has a 24/7 Obama channel. The size of the crowd and the level of emotion was beyond any reasonable level. The boiled down message which all of this seems to be pushing is the same, perhaps enhanced a bit by the conjunction of the inauguration with Martin Luther King Day. The media seems convinced that as a nation we’ve accomplished something wonderful by electing someone with a dark skin to the presidency and it’s time to give ourselves a pat on the back and celebrate just how special we are.
I find myself wondering why this is so exciting. We’re supposed to be a nation where everyone is equal and no one has special rights or privileges. If everyone is supposed to be treated the same, why is it any kind of special achievement to elect someone of a particular skin color or background? Shouldn’t that be irrelevant to his chances of getting elected and equally irrelevant in how significant his election is?
To me all of the hype sends the wrong message. It suggests that something out of the ordinary has happened here. But if America is the nation of equals which it is supposed to be, then there should be no difference between electing a white president, a black president or a latino president. Your skin color doesn’t make you any better or any worse than anyone else. We’re all just Americans, right?
The positive message we could send here is to treat this inauguration as routine. We’ve done it almost 60 times before. It’s no big deal. There’s nothing remarkable about inaugurating a dark-skinned man. We’re inaugurating a person, not a skin color. Our society judges people by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin — or so a wise man once told me.
If we want the world to see that we really do practice what we preach, then this ostentatious promotion of the specialness of this inauguration sends exactly the wrong message. It tells people that we’re defensive and insecure and desperate for attention. It tells them that we don’t really believe what we’ve been saying for years and that we lack confidence in the message of equality which we have been preaching all that time.
The fact that Obama is black speaks for itself. It doesn’t need additional recognition. It’s not the important thing about this inauguration. It pales in comparison to the fact that unlike almost every other nation in the world we have once again managed to go through a change in government without any conflict or violence, with one political faction handing power to its opponents with peace and dignity. Having done that every 4 years for over 200 years is much more of an accomplishment than electing someone who is just another citizen like any other to the highest office in the land.