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Good-Bye George: Obama's Inauguration Means No More Excuses for Youth

New America Media, Commentary, Russell Morse Posted: Jan 22, 2009

As our former president, George W. Bush, emerged from a door on the West steps of the capitol building on his last day in office, some of the 2 million Americans who gathered for the spectacle began to boo him. Others started a chorus of the sports anthem "Na na na na, hey, hey, hey, good-bye!" He smiled, almost shyly, shook some hands and took his seat.

Alone in bed, watching the inauguration, I felt a strong sadness for the man who shaped my perception of American government as corrupt, bumbling, clumsy, inefficient, tyrranical outfit. I can only imagine how many times he's been booed and heckled in his eight years as president, but I know this one hurt. I saw it in his eyes. And I was sad for him.

As Richard Nixon left office, he reminded America that they wouldn't have him to kick around any more. This great personification of evil was leaving and people would have to swirl their fantasies of "The Man" around someone else. And I suppose they did.

A friend who is of the generation that was alive to "despise" Nixon once told me that he loved and admired the man because he understood the burden that he had to carry: Richard Nixon agreed to be the totem of everything those revolutionary spirits of the era despised. My friend then compared him to the villains of Mexican wrestling, who agree to wear the mask of the bad guy. They agree to be hated, to absorb the rage and resentment of hordes of drunken Mexicans.

I'm told that when a Luchadore retires, someone else assumes the mask and becomes the character. This way, the character never dies. In the case of the villain, it becomes the reincarnation of evil. And in many ways, that is what inauguration ceremonies have felt like for me: another man assumes the role of villain.

In an uncomfortable twist, this was not the case at the inauguration of Barack Obama. It was serene and soaring: like watching Excalibur pulled from the stone. I felt some profound divinity as the Kansas Kenyan placed his hand on the Bible and millions of people stood in silence, some of them crying.

I have a friend who is young enough that he doesn't have any adult memories from a time before September 11, 2001. I'm older than he is, but I know the kind of disorientation that accompanies coming of age in a paranoid, apocalyptic era. My world view was shaped by the violence and desperation of the past eight years. This is what my crippling cynicism grew out of: orange alerts, Guantanamo, Katrina. This is how my generation was torn from the hope of love and peace and art and passion. We developed detached irony as a desperate mechanism to survive coming of age in a crumbling Orwellian empire.

And this is why I cried for George W. Bush. My generation has no more excuses. We got the man that we wanted. We worked for something, let the cynicism down and believed for a little bit and now we have no one to blame for the state of the world except ourselves. It's scary to have the weight of the redemption and future of our great nation placed on your shoulders. I can't be distant now. I can't snicker in the corner. I can't make dark jokes about Iraq. I have to work.

Four years ago, I vomited on the president. I was covering the Republican National Convention in New York City on the last night of the gathering. George W Bush was to give his acceptance speech and I spent the day drinking whiskey in the Pennsylvania Hotel to prepare myself. This was 2004, months aftrer Fallujah and soon after Daniel Pearl was decapitated on the internet. They were scary times, certain doom. Later that night, as the president was escorted into the building, I jostled to get to the front. To stare evil in the face, I guess, or at least take a photograph. But it got so crowded and hot that I started to feel nauseous. Just as he was passing, I bent over and splattered a gallon of whiskey and two hot dogs on a photographer's shoes. People screamed and pushed to get away from me and a policeman came and grabbed me, not realizing what the commotion was. I was escorted away, but got back in time to see the president's speech. It was an unfortunate saga, except that I will always be able to say that I vomited on the president.

But what am I going to do at the convention for Obama's re-election: help Stevie Wonder cross the street and make out with Rosario Dawson? It is an uncomfortable sensation, buying into the system.

As confused as I am, I suppose I'll close with a little sappy profundity:

The rest of Inauguration Day, I rode my bike around San Francisco, seeing friends and talking to strangers. I ended up at Dolores Park, drinking beers with a friend while his daughter played in the playground. We spit on the ground, picked at the grass and talked a bit. He told me his daughter's pre-school had all the children watch the Inauguration that morning and it reminded me of a live television event I watched at school when I was her age. On a similar January morning in 1986, all of the kids at my school gathered around the television to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Seconds after liftoff, the Challenger exploded, killing every one on board.

But my friend's daughter saw people cheer their new president. She saw a courageous, virtuous, handsome young man assume leadership and challenge us to be better. Her earliest memory of American Government will be enthusiasm, passion and optimism. That alone is a powerful enough redemption to wipe away the agony of these years. A new political generation is born, drenched in optimism, and for them, the anxiety and oppression that we endured in the Naughts will just be a distant spook story.

Related Articles:

The Place that Hope Forgot to Visit on Election Day

Dwindling Hope, Irrelevant Election: Young People Get Their Cynicism Back

The New Right -- A Movement is Born Outside the RNC

Things to Do in Denver When Your Cause is Dead

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