Achieving Our Country

I'll watching the Inauguration of Barack Obama tomorrow the way a good American should: At home, over some sort of brunch, in front of a flat-screen TV. But as a good Washingtonian, I figured I should attend at least one of the weekend's events, so I hiked down to the Lincoln Memorial concert on Sunday, and spent a few hours shivering in the cold just beyond the World War II memorial (that was as close as we could get), watching as various Obama propaganda films gave way to Bono, the Boss, and Beyonce on the Jumbo-tron. I don't know if it was the "least lame president-elect-sanctioned musical event in history"- probably! - but it was disappointingly lame even so, at least from where we stood: Only Garth Brooks (and to a lesser extent Pete Seeger, who closed things out - and set left-wing hearts aflutter - by leading the crowd in a rendition of "This Land Is Your Land"), out of the star-studded roster of performers, seemed to understand that the thing to do when you have hundreds of thousands of freezing spectators is to ham it way, way up, and to confine yourself to songs that make them want to ... shout! Though to be fair, any energy a given performer managed to generate dissipated awfully quickly anyway, thanks to the interminable between-song readings from past Presidents, and past inaugurals, delivered for the most part by second-tier movie stars who really don't have any business quoting Lincoln or Roosevelt. I mean, Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks, fair enough - but did I really need to shiver through a civics lecture from the likes of Jack Black, Ashley Judd and Kal Penn?

So that's the jaundiced, slightly frostbitten view of the proceedings. The kinder thing to say is that this was an impressive celebration of left-wing patriotism, the sort of thing this country hasn't seen on such a scale in years or even decades. In an essay for Time last year, Peter Beinart observed, with some accuracy, that "conservatives tend to see patriotism as an inheritance from a glorious past," while "liberals often see it as the promise of a future that redeems the past." The inaugural concert was all about the latter sort: The patriotism of Seeger and Springsteen; of white Hollywood and the black church; of Gene Robinson and the Gay Men's Chorus; and of course the Pope of liberal Christianity himself. (Even Reagan was co-opted to the achieving-our-country theme: They found the most liberal-friendly line in his first inaugural - "how can we love our country and not love our countrymen, and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they are sick, and provide opportunities to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?" - and quoted it amid similar phrases from FDR and JFK, MLK and Lincoln.) I won't say that it was exactly my kind of celebration, but it was the kind of celebration that liberal America has waited an awfully long time to experience. And I would be an ungrateful graduate of many a boyhood Pete Seeger singalong - I know the "radical verses" as well as any Obamaphile - if I didn't feel happy for my left-of-center countrymen in their hour of long-awaited celebration. You can't say that they didn't work awfully hard for it.