Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No Kewpie doll but we got us a new Prez

After watching the Inauguration, I drove to the Friends of the Library Book Bay, where I had left my book list yesterday. This is a thirty-five page document, arranged by genre, of every book I own so that I won't duplicate them on my frequent forays into book stores.

My favorite classical music station, KDFC, offered tickets to a chamber music concert if I could be the tenth caller and correctly identify the poet who read at the 1961 Inauguration of President John F. Kennedy.

It was the first presidential election in which I was old enough to vote. No previous Inaugural had featured a poet. This was believed to be the influence of our new first lady, Jacqueline, who unlike the other Kennedys, was more into culture than touch football.

I pulled over and dialed repeatedly. I love chamber music. The radio station's line was busy, busy, busy.

Finally, I got through. The DJ with the lovely voice asked what she could do for me.

"I'm calling with the name of the poet who read at the Kennedy Inauguration."

"I already have my winner, but what would you have said?"

"Robert Frost," I answered.


We both sighed.

She said, "It isn't easy to be the 10th caller."

No kidding, lady.

I didn't win the Kewpie doll at the fair.

Most Americans didn't even know that we had a Poet Laureate. Robert Frost was very old and stumbled over his poem, "Dedication," which he had written especially for the occasion. The blinding sun reflecting off snow made it impossible for him to read his text, and since the poem was so new, he had not committed it to memory. He finally gave up and recited an older poem, "The Gift Outright," by heart.

Every President since then has invited an American poet to read a poem at his Inauguration.

There has been much made of the similarities between Kennedy and Obama because of their enormous charisma, charm and intelligence as well as the rare ability to inspire young people to care deeply about their country.

Even more has been noted of the similarities between Lincoln and Obama, both senators from Illinois, authors of best-selling books, phenomenally gifted speakers who came to power during a national crisis, and widely considered too young for the responsibilities of president.

I think it would be a mistake to see Barack Obama as anyone other than himself. The torch may have been passed but the times have changed, requiring radically different approaches to solving the nation's and the world's problems. He is not another Lincoln or the new Kennedy but wholly himself, and that is exactly what we need today.

As we rejoice on this great occasion, we must come together and in Lincoln's words, "do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."


Anonymous said...

The citizens of the United States of America celebrate a very special day today. The replacement of prejudice with intelligence has produced many smiles all over the world.

the walking man said...

Can Obama be Lincoln or Kennedy or FDR?

Not at all; but I have hope because he has the same sort of quiet intellectualism that guided two former presidents through the crisis the nations faced during their time at the helm and the determination to alleviate the suffering of the majority as the third did.

I want, in a few years, to be able to favorably compare O to Theodore Roosevelt; in my mind the best of the best of the 20th century presidents.

Cecilieaux said...

Wasn't old enough to vote in 1961, but I was old enough to sit in the parade review stands. It was cold, too!

"The Gift Outright" became a marker of an important day for me.

So now I went to two inaugurations: JFK's and Obama's. Hope for a better outcome with this one!

furiousBall said...

i'm really excited about this change. i hope that the conservatives don't go the route of slapping "don't blame me i voted for x" stickers on their cars and do something if they aren't happy.

meno said...

'Blame Me, I Voted for Obama.

Unless you didn't vote, then shut up.'

My new bumper sticker.

Cardozo said...

I hope everyone will take the time to poke around the brand new and interactive White House website.

Molly said...

The naysayers should all be quiet, my FIL especially! I think we should all give him some space and help him in any way we can. We're all in this together!

nick said...

The inauguration is very spectacular, but isn't it all rather over the top? In the UK the incoming prime minister is sworn in by the Queen at Buckingham Palace and that's that. Nobody even knows it's happened. I do wonder what Obama himself thought of all the crazy pomp and ceremony, especially the ten balls.

Michelle's white ball gown was pretty fabulous though....

Anonymous said...

Sorry about the Kewpie dool but Yay! for the much bigger prize we all won!!

nick said...

Just heard that Barack has been sworn in again privately because of the mix-up the first time. Hey, they could have done that to begin with....

So he's already closing down Guantanamo. Fantastic. Hitting the ground sprinting, as someone said.

On a limb with Claudia said...

I struggle to hope because my hopes have been so trampled. But I am willing to work.

It's a very exciting time!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Many of us are very happy with our new administration, and hopefully President Obama will help to restore our good standing in the world which has suffered so horribly in recent years.


I agree with you about FDR. And I'm certain that Obama as himself will be more than enough for the job that badly needs to be done.


I've been to Washington in winter and it's quite bitterly cold.

It sounds as if you have quite a wonderful tradition going!


There will always be dissidents. I am thrilled to have voted for someone who actually won -- it's been a long time since that happened.


Market it. It's a good one.


I've been there. It's fantastic to know that our concerns will be heard by those in power. This is a 21st Century presidency for sure.


Your FIL is an old humph.

We are all in this together and always have been, but this time we can make a positive difference. I feel as if we've been given a reprieve.


Michelle is beautiful. She could have worn anything and dazzled us.

The pomp and ceremony reminded me more of the Coronation of an Emperor than the Inauguration of a President so we've learned a thing or two from our British forbears.


Yes, it's a helluva consolation prize.


You came back!!

As I just said in a comment to Liz, perhaps those who questioned whether Obama was really President because of the mangled oath should be questioning whether Justice Roberts is really Chief Justice.

Apparently the good judge got it right the second time.


If we are willing to work, there are few limits on what we can accomplish together.

I am very happy that I am alive to witness this change in my country and already feel more involved than I have for a very long time.

Voyager said...

He is not my new President, since I am Canadian. But here he is a symbol of hope and sanity and I rejoice for my American friends.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

I'm still celebrating from Tuesday.

Ian Lidster said...

"Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village, though."

On Jeopardy the other night every contestant tanked on that.

"Fatuous young morons," I muttered.

So, what's old Bob Frost up to these days? Don't hear about him much.

Like you, that is the first Inauguration I remember.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


And we thank you for your kind thoughts and wishes.

St. Nick,

Don't forget to feed Alex.


Robert Frost died on January 29, 1963, so his anniversary is nearly here.

You watch "Jeopardy?"

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Humpf! Alex eats at least 7 times a day. If I were to not feed him,the furball would claw chunks out of my body.

Jocelyn said...

Why, I wonder, do I find it so charming when poets stumble over their own poems?

And I agree with your assessment: Obama is himself. That's why I like him.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

St. Nick,

It's good to know he could survive in the wild.


Robert Frost was simply wonderful!

He spoke at my brother's Dartmouth commencement and was still impressive relatively late in life.