Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What Obama means to me

My quick thoughts on the inauguration, and what Obama signifies to me.

This election left me feeling very vindicated. Even though I'm obviously not black, I felt that one of mine had been elected: an intellectual, left-of-center pragmatist. For just about all of my (admittedly short) political life, I have been a left-wing nutjob. Between Obama, my Congressmen (who were shoe-ins, but still) and Massachusetts' three ballot questions, I was, for the first time, 100% mainstream on every issue I had a say in. It's nice to know I haven't been taking crazy pills.

I thought Obama's speech was okay. Not great — I'd have liked to hear a specific call to action — but moving. The one word that I loved: "nonbelievers." Okay, so it's probably not the preferred nomenclature, but I was thrilled to see that Obama remembered that we exist. He's also putting his money where his mouth is, in that all signs point to Obama restoring science to the White House.

It got me thinking: will I live to see an atheist or agnostic sworn in? Or will I even live to see an inauguration not kicked off by a benediction and capped with "God bless you, and God Bless the United States of America"? To some believers out there, this may seem like a minor trifel and a harmless tradition. But let's say the tables were switched. What if the inauguration ceremony started with a scientist getting up and saying, "there is no God" and the inauguration speech ended with "we'll get through this without God's help, since He doesn't exist." Wouldn't you be offended?

As a strongly secular, humanist, agnostic-bordering-on-atheist, I can't help but feeling like an outsider when nearly every significant political event incorporates God so closely, and often implies that it's only thanks to Him that we are where we are. To me, that greatly demeans the efforts and struggles of countless humans (including mine). Now, I don't think it'd be appropriate to alienate believers with "there is no God," but by the same token, I don't think it's appropriate to alienate non-believers.

Well, that was my one rant for this post. I now leave you with a conundrum to ponder. My friend Abbey wondered whether, for the couple minutes between Biden's inauguration and Obama's, Biden was technically Bush's VP. My sister Tamar suggested that maybe the switch happens exactly at noon, regardless of when the actual oath is taken. But in that case, is Obama legally allowed to try to undermine the Constution in the few minutes between noon and his swearing in, given that he hadn't actually taken an oath to defend it yet?

My humble suggestion for a fix is to affix onto each oath, "... effective upon the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America saying, 'beep.' " Both inaugurations should take place before noon, and at exactly noon, the justice should leant towards the microphone and say, with much somberness and weight, "beep!"


Anonymous said...

I was surprised in a good way too when Obama said "non-believer." He really knows how to bring a sense of comm/unity to the country. This article on an atheist ad campaign reminded me of what you were talking about, particularly with the wording:

Ilana said...

I totally agree. Why did Roberts have to add "so help you God?". It makes it sound like the constitution endorses that phrase, when it's actually a modern addition.