Charles Krauthammer: Obama's Inaugural SurpriseRoundup: Media's Take
But now that Obama was president, the redeemer was withholding, the tone newly sober, even dour. The world was still in Bushian ruin, marked by "fear ... conflict ... discord ... petty grievances and false promises ... recriminations and worn-out dogmas." But now no more the prospect of magical restoration. In a stunning exercise in lowered expectations, Obama offered not quite blood, sweat and tears, but responsibility, work, sacrifice and service.
When candidate Obama said "it's not about me, it's about you," that was sheer chicanery. But now he means it, because he really cannot part the waters. Hence his admonition to rely not on the "skill or vision of those in high office," but on "We the People."
On the issue of race, he was even more withholding, and admirably so. He understood that his very presence was enough to mark the monumentality of the moment. Words would be superfluous -- as introducer Dianne Feinstein was apparently unaware -- and he gave it very few.
This was surprising, given that the announced theme of the inaugural -- "a new birth of freedom" -- invited grandiose comparison to Lincoln. Yet in the inaugural address, Obama abandoned the conceit. He allowed that "a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath." When he followed that with "So let us mark this day with remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled," you were sure he would trace the journey back to Lincoln and the Second (post-Gettysburg) Republic or to King and the civil rights revolution.
But Obama didn't. Remarkably, he instead reached back -- over King and Lincoln -- to George Washington. He rooted the values he cherishes most (and wants us to renew) in the Founders, in the First Republic, the slave-tainted one (as our schoolchildren are incessantly reminded) that had to await Lincoln for its cleansing.
Obama's unapologetic celebration of Washington and the founders of the original imperfect union was a declaration of his own emancipation from -- or better, transcendence of -- the civil rights movement. The old warrior Joseph Lowery prayed for the day when "white will embrace what is right." Not Obama. By connecting himself in this historic address to Washington rather than Lincoln the liberator, Obama was legitimizing the full sweep of American history without annotation or mental reservation. If we ever have a post-racial future, this moment will mark its beginning....