Wednesday, January 21, 2009

L'investiture--the Inauguration

Tuesday 20 January 2009, a major day for Americans everywhere, including those of us who could not share in the great ritual at home. Fortunately, France is gripped by a kind of Obamamania. The major newspapers have had a string of front page stories about him. The same is true for magazines. And, piece of good luck for those of us who are far from home, one TV channel carried almost three hours of live coverage. By and large the commentary was uniformly favorable. The only negative notes (a "dose of reality" I’m sure they would say) came from American commentators, either on television or in print. They pointed to the reality of a divided U.S., a quick end of any honeymoon, and the challenge of governing within an adversary system.
Certain aspects of the ceremony drew the attention of French commentators. One was impressed by how the oath stresses defense of the constitution, a reminder of how we are a constitutional republic, committed to a set of ideals and rules which provide the country’s playbook, not just a land that blows with whatever happens to be the contemporary fad. One woman reporter noted, with satisfaction, how a particular camera shot framed Obama preceded by two powerful women, House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Diane Feinstein. “It’s a new world,” she said. Another, reflecting on the campaign, pointed out how a standard post-debate scene in the U.S. would be inconceivable in France: when the candidates and their families mingle on stage and actually embrace each other. Another remembered Obama, in a speech, saying that the day he took the oath of office would be the day the rest of the world looked at America differently. "Yes, indeed,"was his simply commentary.

As far as the inaugural address goes, the French focused on several themes: hope over fear, embracing a renewed sense of responsibility in the face of contemporary challenges, and a general sense that it is time, once again, for Americans to roll up their sleeves and achieve common aims.

The responsibility theme, according to a commentary in this morning’s Le Monde, breaks decisively with the Bush presidency which did not tend to emphasize responsibility and sacrifice, pretending that a country “could fight two wars abroad while cutting taxes at home.” The same writer proclaimed rather grandly that the election of 2008 “signalled the end of the age of conservatism in the U.S.” Perhaps the American “dose of reality” commentators would suggest waiting awhile before making so definitive a claim.

Watching the inauguration with some bubbly

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