The Speech from 35,000 Feet

by Steven F. Hayward

I took in Obama’s Inaugural Address in an unusual venue–on a fully packed JetBlue flight from Florida, landing at Dulles just a few minutes after Obama finished. Is it “postmodern” to take off on a plane flight with one president, and land with another, or is that just the humdrum of American politics in action, and therefore another reason to celebrate the durability of our democracy? In any event, as JetBlue customers know, every seat has a video screen, and on a trip to the rear cabin loo I only saw one adult who was not tuned in; he was watching the Food Network. (My kids watched Cartoon Network.) About half the passengers seemed to be turned in to the Fox News channel, for what it’s worth.  

I thought the speech was in many ways a combination of Reagan and Clinton, conveying more continuity than audacity. Above all, we still don’t know what we’re getting from this guy. Obama might be said to have implicitly repudiated some of his past radical sympathies, yet have also been generic enough to preserve his latitude to govern as far to the left as he can get away with. That’s the trouble with the platitudinous character inaugural speeches have taken on over the decades. As momentous as these occasion are, we should probably resist the temptation to waterboard the text until it confesses all its secrets. Let’s see what his deeds are.