Thursday, January 22, 2009

Caroline, No!

I have had a lot of thoughts about President Obama's speech, especially in context of the project of this blog to read and excerpt all of the previous Inauguration Speeches -- basically one a day from Thanksgiving until last week.

I think the speech is unique, without trying to put too much emphasis as to whether or not that was a good thing. President Obama evoked the heavyweights -- he used "fear" the way FDR did. He asked for us to help our neighbors in the way JFK (and for that matter Nixon and Reagan) did. Obama used the word "measure" in the old-fashioned way, in order to evoke Lincoln. He reminded his audience -- as did Truman -- that being a liberal in the United States sense of the word does not mean that you would be unwilling to fight if necessary. I also think of Theodore Roosevelt's inaugural speech about the new challenges facing the new century, and on the need for and responsibilities of national greatness.

And yet, something about this speech made it unlike any of its predecessors.

I have something to say about a tradition of conservative personal rectitude resulting in radical politics. A tradition that goes back to people like John Adams, and through to people like John Brown. It runs through the personal history of a lot of so-called "pinko" Jewish leaders. And how this contrasts with the age that we're trying to strangle -- an age of casual personal corruption and immorality masked by public proclamations of faith in old ways that never, in fact, existed.

But I haven't thought it all the way through. It is sort of what I meant when I said, in some blog posts before the election, that Barack Obama will most likely become Jimmy Carter done right. But it's not fully formed yet, and I may have to back away from it.

I am fully in the camp of those who say that Caroline Kennedy withdrew her bid to be appointed U.S. Senator from New York because Governor Patterson told her that he had decided to look elsewhere. I thought the entire point of her becoming Senator was to make sure that the family had adequate representation in the Senate. Our new information that Senator Ted Kennedy is not getting better would be a reason for Caroline Kennedy to campaign even harder, not to withdraw.

And mixing these two events in my head, the inauguration speech of our first African-American President, and the decision to be made by New York's first African-American governor, my brain spit out a name I had not thought about in a number of years:

Rev. Floyd Flake

So out of nowhere, on the odds (the lottery-like odds) that I am right, I offer up the Reverend Flake as our next Senator.

Reverend Flake's finances are extremely complicated, and my rational self tells me that he would not allow them to be held up to any more public scrutiny. But there was this impulse that I needed to share.

I will accept a silver-medal as a prognosticator if, out of the blue, Governor Patterson does present someone with a background similar to that of Reverend Flake, someone who came through the politics of local churches into the politics of local government. Someone whose patriotism is unquestioned, and whose strict personal code usually leads him to extremely liberal positions, except for those times where (like Reverend Flake), he finds himself shoulder to shoulder with people like Rudolph Giuliani.

I do not really know if such a person exists in New York today, but if he or she does, I think s/he would personify everything that President Obama was talking about on Tuesday afternoon.