A random look at the life and times of Jim Rising recovering radio addict and newspaper columnist.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Inaugural thoughts

I wasn’t able to watch the inauguration of the 44th president last week. I did get to hear it all on the radio. Hearing but not seeing was interesting. A couple of things stick in my mind about this history making event. First of all Aretha Franklin had a bad day. The Queen of Soul has lost a lot of her range but give her a break. It was cold and all. But her phrasing of the song “My Country ‘tis of thee” in the first line was a tad bit unfortunate. Check the video. Just not the right place to pause there, ‘reatha.

Then the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts got in a muddle as he swore in Barack Obama with the 35-word oath of office - and the new president repeated the mistake.

The oath includes the phrase "I will faithfully execute the office of president" but Roberts put the word "faithfully" at the end. Mr Obama stopped reciting the words, realizing they were out of order. Roberts then said the phrase correctly. But Mr Obama then repeated the incorrect version. It was such a cluster of errors that later on that day they did a do-over in the map room of the White House. Is it just me or is sort of not a good sign? If they can’t nail 35 words to install the leader of the free world in office what else will they mess up on?

Obama’s speech was flat. Sorry but it was. Having no video I listened hard for the passion and fire of his campaign speeches. It was gone. A very much more serous and restrained man, this one who had just messed up his oath of office. I have a theory about this. When a man is elected President of the United States of America he is briefed by the FBI the CIA and tons of other alphabet soup agencies. Generals and Admirals sit down with him. He is privy to all the secret stuff that is carefully kept under wraps.

I think that Obama learned the truth about UFO’s and the aliens who live among us. It was information that made Jimmy Carter cry once. Seriously.

One such incident occurred during one of Jimmy Carter’s book signing sessions after he was no longer in office. A man pressed the UFO issue after arriving at the table with his book. He made eye-to-eye contact with Carter and said, "President Carter, you promised to tell the American people, when you were campaigning, that you would find out about UFOs. What happened?" The man reported that Carter stopped cold, and tears formed in his eyes. For a religious man like Carter who promised to help, and to tell the truth, the UFO secret had to be a hard one keep.

So after hearing that kind of truth who wouldn’t be a little more sober?

But for me the real show stopper was the benediction by Joseph Echols Lowrey a minister in the United Methodist Church and leader in the American civil rights movement.

Lowrey is no stranger to being a lighting rod for civil rights. His home was seized by the State of Alabama in a Libel suit that was reversed by the United States Supreme Court. Joseph Lowery was among the first five African Americans to get arrested at the South African Embassy in Washington D.C. during the Free South Africa movement. In 2006, at Coretta Scott King's funeral, Dr. Lowery received a standing ovation when he remarked before four U.S. Presidents in attendance:

“ We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war billions more but no more for the poor!”

Conservative observers claimed his comments were inappropriate in a setting meant to honor the life of Mrs. King, especially considering Mr. Bush was present at the ceremony.

But his work at the Obama inauguration has to be his finest hour.

The speech was a stirring one. Check the video. But here are some highlights.

“Help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid; when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.”

“Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around -- (laughter) -- when yellow will be mellow -- (laughter) -- when the red man can get ahead, man -- (laughter) -- and when white will embrace what is right.”

“Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.


REV. LOWERY: Say amen --


REV. LOWERY: -- and amen.

AUDIENCE: Amen! (Cheers, applause.)”

Ok so last things first. I will go on record here that I thought the call and response at the end was a first for a presidential inauguration. It sounded like a gospel church service.

Secondly I really liked the lines about beating tanks into tractors and fig trees and all that. Well said.

But that bit of rhyming? And especially where he said when white will embrace what is right? How was that not racist?

I did a little research on that little verse.

It may have come from Zora Neale Hurston's story “In Harlem Slang: Jelly’s tale” The passage in question is this:

one pimp says to another: Man, I don't

deal in no coal. Know what I tell 'em? If they's white, they's right! If

they's yellow, they's mellow! If they's brown, they can stick around. But if

they come black, they better git way back!

Or it may have been lifted by Lowrey from the Song “Black, Brown and White” by Chicago Bluesman Big Bill Broonzy which includes the lyrics”

“This little song that I'm singin' about,

people, you know that it's true

If you're black and gotta work for livin',

now, this is what they will say to you,

They says, "If you was white, you'd be alright,

if you was brown, stick around,

but if you're black, oh, brother, get back, get back, get back"

So I just find it interesting that once more Obama has been associated with a man who is not afraid to be a little bit racist.

Remember this guy?


Chinese curse. “May you live in interesting times.”

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