Andy Stone: A Stone’s throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Whew! Glad that’s over.
By “that,” I mean the Obama inauguration, which, as I write these words, ended about an hour ago. I also mean, even more, the Bush presidency.
I am tempted to greet the end of Mr. Bush’s administration with words from Gerald Ford’s Inaugural Address, which followed Richard Nixon’s near-impeachment and resignation: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
I am equally tempted to use that favorite phrase of headline writers ” usually in the sports section, when describing the departure of a losing coach ” “The end of an error!”
But, in a curious way, we need to show some gratitude for what George W. Bush has done.
Sure, he’s handing the new president an astonishing mess: financial disaster, rising unemployment, the nation’s reputation in shambles, two wars that might both be described as quagmires, conflict in the Middle East, nuclear weapons in North Korea … you know the list. It goes on. And on.
Rarely, if ever, has a president come into office facing so many potentially catastrophic problems.
Rarely, if ever, has a president left so many catastrophic problems behind him ” like flaming bags of dog poo dumped on the doorstep by a midnight bell-ringer. (No, that’s not an elegant image, but it’s somehow fitting for our departing frat-boy president.)
I saw Dick Cheney trundling around the ceremony in a wheelchair and wondered if somehow he’d been persuaded to dress up as a metaphor for his administration. (If that had been the case, a “flaming bag of dog poo” costume would have been even better.)
But the TV announcers soon revealed that Cheney had injured his back the night before. He strained it trying to strangle one last kitten before leaving office.
No. That’s neither correct nor fair. Cheney injured his back cleaning out his office. He was lifting a cardboard box filled with the skulls of his enemies.
OK. Enough. I apologize. Just couldn’t resist.
Back to my original point, which is that we should be grateful to Bush and Cheney because the mess they created led to Barack Obama’s election.
They didn’t ensure just the election of a Democrat, which I certainly would have welcomed ” albeit somewhat warily.
No, they ensured the election of a Democrat who is America’s first black president. No small feat.
I admit I’ve been an Obama supporter from the start. But I have to say that somewhere along the way I got nervous. Damn, I fretted, could the Democrats actually have blown it ” in a year when they should have been able to win with their eyes closed ” by nominating a black candidate? A black candidate with an odd name. Did they try for too much? Did they push too far?
And indeed, maybe it would have been too much. Maybe America’s lingering racism and xenophobia would have been too much to overcome under almost any other circumstances. Even for a candidate as strong as Barack Obama.
But that’s where the overpowering awfulness of Bush-Cheney came into play.
To stick with my inelegant metaphor, your average American guy may not be much for wearing perfume ” but once he’s stomped on a bag of flaming dog poo, he’s likely to be eager for something that’ll improve the aroma.
And, if I can raise the tone here, for all my cynicism, I confess I said something approaching a prayer ” a deeply felt, fervent wish, anyway ” for Obama’s safety. And for his success.
I pray for his safety because two of the most disturbing assassinations in American history ” Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ” were carried out by men with a pathological hatred of blacks. And that pathology still runs strong in the American bloodstream.
But more than that, I pray for his success because his success will be our success as a nation.
And if he fails, his failure will be our failure.
The right-wing noise machine is already gearing up to sabotage the new president’s efforts and to paint him as a failure no matter what happens. (They swear, of course, that they want him to succeed ” with all the same fervor they once used to declare that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.)
But today is no day to think about failure. Today, Obama was swept into office on a wave of good feeling and support.
And even I found myself crying with some kind of unfamiliar joy as Aretha Franklin sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”
Because now, after all those long years ” punctuated by those two tragic assassinations ” we have taken an enormous step toward delivering on our national promise.
My mother, a fierce, lifelong Democrat, died early in 2004. Shortly before she died, she told me that she was worried that Bush was going to get re-elected. “If he gets another term,” she warned me, “in four years you won’t recognize this country.”
I’ve often remembered that warning and ” with reports of torture and illegal wiretaps and secret prisons and more ” thought that she was right.
And now, today, again, I realize she was indeed right.
She was right for the worst, yes. But she also was, suddenly and surprisingly, right for the best.
Who would have thought, just those few short years ago, that now, at last, America would have its first black president? And more than that, a strong, intelligent, thoughtful, far-sighted president.
That is an America I almost don’t recognize ” and an America I am wonderfully glad to recognize.
And so, in an odd way, I do thank George Bush for having made it all possible.
And finally, after the oath of office, after the (good but not great) inauguration speech, I found my eyes growing damp one more time, as they sang “The Star Spangled Banner.” Really.
And as those last few words ” “… and the home of the brave!” ” blended into the roar of the crowd, like any good all-American baseball fan I wanted to shout out the time-honored ball park follow-up:
It’s a brand new season.
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For the past five-plus years I have sat in a big chair in a small office on Hyman Avenue watching life in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley play out in front of me.