My birthday is January 20th. Every four years, the nation stops its normal course of events and holds a parade and celebration. The quadrennial festivities began, by coincidence, at the moment Dwight Eisenhower became the 34th president of the United States of America back in 1953. Truly, a moment in history. But, was either event an historic moment? After 56 years of thoughtful consideration, I vote in the affirmative to both.
History, by its very definition, is in the past; therefore, an event of historic significance, be it my birth or the inauguration of a president, does not become a momentous occasion until after it occurs. We can anticipate with great expectation the significance of a future event, but to do more is to wallow in the shallow pit of hyperbole.
And, the wallowing over the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the nation's 44th chief executive has taken away some of the "historic" joy for me. Here's why I say this. Three months before the Democratic National Convention, wide-eyed journalists gushed with school-girl giddiness over the fact that Mr. Obama would accept his party's nomination on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech. Yes, this would be a significant event in the histories of presidential politics and civil rights (USA Today termed it "serendipitous timing"), and the angle freshened an overly long story. But, when journalists declared Obama the nominee (not "the presumptive nominee"), and brought to our attention the convergence of these two events, they smothered us with their unfettered excitement. No fewer than 900 references to the serendipitous timing, but not with that wonderful phrase, turn up in a Google search for June 3-4. Hundreds more show up in the days that followed.
Thank you for pointing it out, but stop beating me with it.
The same sentiment holds for the inauguration. Today, just a few hours before the event, the forced creation of history by journalists and regular folks alike is making me want to turn away. It's like when your mother arranges a blind date with the daughter, or son, of a friend of a friend. The build up rarely lives up to reality.
And, the sad thing is that the desire to be a part of any history is so strong with some people that they fail to see the irony in their words and actions. Take this email describing the events at one Inauguration Day gathering in Houston:
"The general plan is to commemorate the day with an ocular demonstration of 'The Evolution of a Dream: Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.' by simulcasting the swearing in of the 44th President who is a person of color." The follow-up email arrived a few days later with a flyer containing the Obama quote: "This is not a White America. This is not a Black America. This is not a Latino America. This is not an Asian America. This is the United States of America."
The new generation of journalists long for their own presidential Camelot. Another Google search for the terms Obama and Camelot returns nearly a thousand hits. The truth is that Camelot did not exist as a descriptive term for the shortened Kennedy administration until after the president's assassination. Also, keep in mind this bit of political irony purveyors of the New Camelot keep quiet: Kennedy won the 1960 election thanks to some old-fashion Chicago vote-counting chicanery.
That historians will view my birthday this year as a significant day in the history of our nation is not totally a function of my being or of Mr. Obama's racial mix. The inauguration of the 44th president would have historic significance regardless of who won the election. We could have had as president the first former prisoner of war, the first female, the first Mormon, the first Libertarian, the first former First Lady, the first cross-dressing former mayor, the first former preacher from Arkansas, the first former actor from Tennessee, the first Hispanic, the first president with hair plugs, the first . . . well, you get the idea.
My birthday and the national event that accompanies it this year are heady times, no doubt about it. That's why there's something unseemly about all of the pre-birthday/inauguration hype. Let the day be what it is to each person according to what's important to that person. It may be a day to celebrate the start of another year. For some, the day may carry great ideological significance or racial pride. And pride for others may be found in the peaceful transition of power that begins another chapter in our nation's history.
I intend to spend the day celebrating my birthday, celebrating a new president, and letting history sort out the significance of both.