Guest Column1/29/09

First peek of the Obama watch

Jan. 29, 2009

By Edwin Cooney

“What did you think about the Obama Inauguration?” surely has been one of the most frequently asked questions throughout America over the past several days. Exactly how one answers that question is likely to be as much a reflection of who the respondent is as it is of the real value of the event itself.

If you’re like me, absolutely enthralled by what you know of our new president, your response to that question will echo both enthusiasm and hopeful optimism. If, on the other hand, you don’t much like either President Obama or what you know about what he stands for, your response is likely to reflect skepticism and a “let’s wait and see” outlook tinged with doubt.

Any time I need to get my head straightened out on a matter of this significance, I usually visit my favorite watering hole to see what my buddies Lunkhead and Dunderhead have to say. So there I was just the other night, sitting between the two of them, and that’s where I got my first shock.

Lunkhead had been humbled by having to wear a set of donkey ears as dictated by his wife, the “beloved Bertha,” after he lost his election bet with her last November. He was still wearing them now, even though the inauguration was over. He responded to my inquiry.

“It’s the least I can do, after all. My candidate didn’t have any better idea as to how to fix the economy than Obama seemed to have. It seemed like Obama was turning to socialism. If we can criticize Obama, and I did, it is equally true that those tax cuts the Republicans insist are the economic savior haven’t helped. All they have gotten us is fewer jobs and lousy home mortgages. So it seems to me we’re all donkeys when it comes to understanding how to keep America prosperous,” Lunkhead said, sipping his newly poured scotch.

Dunderhead, to my complete surprise, was glum.

“Dunderhead,” I began, “What’s wrong with …”

“Don’t ask me any questions!” Dunderhead said sharply. “Let me ask you a question: Who was distinctly absent from President Obama’s inauguration? Don’t get me wrong, I love Obama, but someone was missing. Who was it?”

“Wait a minute,” Lunkhead shot back, “I’ll tell you who was there. America was there. Men and women who work and those who have been thrown out of work were there. Blacks, women and ethnic minorities were there. All your people, Dunderhead — that’s who were there. I don’t get what you’re talking …”

“Thank you,” said Dunderhead, “for answering the easy part of the question. As a spectacle, the Inauguration was spectacular. Nearly two million happy people were there and you’re right, Lunkhead, those are my kind of people. I’m glad they were there. So, as a spectacle, it was great — even grand. But ‘grand,’ I suppose, really has to be reserved for the jewels, furs and limousines of the Reagan Inauguration 28 years ago.

“What’s grabbing me is who didn’t seem to be there,” Dunderhead moaned.

“Look,” I replied, “Joe the Plumber would have been there if only …”

“Ah, cut the comedy,” said Dunderhead. “What was the headline alongside the inaugural story Tuesday night?” he asked.

I took a healthy sip of my beer. I could hear the ice rattling in Lunkhead’s scotch. To my right, I heard the sound of Dunderhead digging deep into his bowl of peanuts. Then, it hit me.

“The stock market fell by some 300 plus points,” I said.

“Precisely!” exclaimed Dunderhead. “While the people and their politicians played, the money changers, the decision makers, were up in New York, wheeling, dealing and getting paid.”

“Those are the decision makers?” asked Lunkhead. “You know, Dunderhead, you’re the one who usually lectures me about the currents in American history, so I’m surprised at you. If the founding fathers (like George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Ben Franklin) were responsible for putting this great nation together, who shook things up enough so that they HAD to come together?”

Then he answered his own question: “The guy who got it all going was a destitute western Massachusetts farmer named Daniel Shays. It was his rebellion in 1786 that frightened the rich bankers and well-off legislators enough so that they demanded that a political and economic order had to be created out of the existing economic and political chaos.

Then he asked his second question.

“If Dr. Joseph Lowery, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Congressman John Lewis were all responsible for leading the Civil Rights movement paving the way for Barack Obama’s election as our 44th president, who started it all? I’ll answer that with another question. Who was that little lady who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala. city bus?”

With that, Lunkhead sat back without even mentioning the lady’s name — Rosa Parks.

“It would seem that decision makers are largely dependent on ‘condition setters,’ wouldn’t it?” I said reflexively.

“Yep,” responded Lunkhead, “and unless I miss my guess, condition-setting is right down Barack Obama’s alley.”

What was there to say after that? All I could do was to stroll home — so, I did.


Edwin Cooney is a national political and historical columnist.