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Know This, America: Watching Obama With a Plate of Grits


The L.A. County Federation of Labor, to which I belong as a union delegate, threw an Inauguration Day viewing breakfast this morning. Like the Fed's annual Labor Day breakfast and other early morning rallies, this one showed some health-consciousness in the chicken sausage cakes and turkey bacon offered, although there were also the traditional grits, biscuits and hash browns. As I lingered by the coffee urns, men spoke about Diane Feinstein's indifference (and possible hostility) toward a new federal bill that would make it easier to organize unions, or discussed Sunday's Pre-Inaugural Concert. ("They cut Bishop Robinson from the broadcast," complained one union member. "Okay," replied another, "but they had Pete Seeger play -- can you believe that?")


The viewing was held inside IATSE Local 80's cavernous, soundstage-like

meeting hall in Burbank. It was packed -- more packed than I'd ever

seen it during a regular Fed meeting. Tiny American flags were tucked

into the soundproofed walls; red, white and blue balloons hung in the

air, and a huge Shepard Fairey "Obama/Hope" poster was draped near a

large projection screen.


People booed whenever Bush and Cheney appeared on the CNN broadcast

("Book 'em!" yelled one man) -- and just as loudly, too, when Rev. Rick

Warren delivered the invocation. (Still, many people bowed their heads

when Warren spoke, and an old black woman sitting behind me dabbed her

eyes during the prayer.) The insufferable Feinstein, it must be said,

drew only muted applause when she began emceeing the inauguration.


Surprisingly, everyone in the great hall stood during Joe Biden's

swearing in. There was another startling moment, though more visually so.

During the Yo Yo Ma-Yitzhak Perlman performance of a Coplandish John

Williams composition, Obama turned around and his face was in perfect

alignment with the Fairey poster hanging next to the screen. At

precisely noon the room broke into applause when a CNN crawler

announced that Obama was now the President. His wife Michelle placed

her hand on his shoulder.


Obama's speech was memorable for its specifics. Instead of describing the

general sweep of American destiny, Obama mentioned places like Iraq and

Afghanistan; he addressed the "Moslem world," blamed the country's

economic ruinĀ  on "greed and irresponsibility" and alluded to climate

change. And he began the roughly 20-minute speech by addressing his

"fellow citizens," not "fellow Americans," no doubt providing his media enemies

with enough political hardtack to see them through a winter of

broadcasts. But perhaps the most noticeable thing about the speech was

that Obama never once looked down at the podium or glanced at

a Teleprompter. The words were all in his head, and now we shall witness

what else he has to tell us in the years that unfold.