THE PLANK OCTOBER 31, 2008
If, as is abundantly likely, Barack wins on Nov. 4, the world will await his Inauguration Address on January 20. However, I'm not looking forward to his speech, so much as his official swearing in, which will constitute the first interesting challenge of his Presidency.
The challenge being, will Obama say, "I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States."
Expect a few ears to bleed. And if they do bleed, it's partly his campaign's fault. Though Barack's opponents were up to no good invoking it, his campaign heaped enough calumny on any mention of his middle name that it only increased the anxiety around it. It's one of the ironies of such defensiveness: banning the word Hussein, makes the word Hussein feel like it should be banned.
But proudly announcing his entire name will put the country on notice that the promise of his campaign--change, inclusion--might have real teeth. After sidelining part of his own identity from the campaign trail in a concession to middle America and a few wary Jews--shuffling out a set of Muslim women with headscarves during a campaign event, reciting the Muslim call to prayer by heart in early 2007 to The New York Times' Nicolas Kristoff but then never again--Barack owes something to that part of who he is. And it's possible that witnessing Barack pronounce his entire name, for the first time, in front of the world, can help shake it loose from the tense shade of meaning that unjustly surrounds it. That would be an act of magic.
Comparisons of Barack to great leaders are certainly premature, but Abraham Lincoln may be relevant. The historical irony of Gettysburg is that Lincoln's three minute benediction was not the main event. That honor belonged to Edward Everett, the 19th century Attic scholar, who gave a two hour peroration that saw the sun go down. No one remembers it.
The first four words of the likely 44th President's swearing in--"I, Barack Hussein Obama"--may well outstrip, for sheer bravura, any inaugural address he could possibly give.