More Dogs on Main Street
January 23, 2009
So that’s it. In a day of extreme pageantry and pomp, Obama is sworn in as president and Bush is carted off to well-earned oblivion. The transfer of power is nothing short of amazing, despite the fact that they have been working on the transition for months. Just the practical logistics of moving one household out and another in would be difficult. Toss in the nuclear codes and it’s complicated. All the little niceties that are built into it are interesting. Before the inauguration, there was a "social coffee" at the White House where the two families sit in one of the historic parlors and have a little chat.
Given the political shift of this election, it’s unlikely they talked policy. It was, more likely, a little conversation about the White House where the thermostat is, which toilet tends to back up, whether the milk freezes on the top shelf of the fridge the kind of stuff you pass on to the new occupant of the house when you move out. Then they all headed down the street to the Capitol for the ceremony, the speeches, the prayers, the songs.
Following that, there was a formal "seeing off" with the new president and vice president walking their predecessors to the car or helicopter for their exit. It’s very genteel to escort them out that way, and frankly no sight was as reassuring as Bush getting on that helicopter for his last exit. He’s gone, but the damage he has done will be with us for a generation.
Cheney was in a wheelchair for the entire event. The news reports are that he hurt his back while boxing up his office. It’s a little hard to image Cheney himself in there doing any heavy lifting, but that’s the claim. I guess he didn’t trust anybody else to destroy the evidence, and was shredding eight years of documents himself. Anyway, seeing Cheney there in a wheelchair made the resemblance to Dr. Strangelove even stronger. He leaves office with a 13 percent approval rate. Bush left with a 22 percent favorable rating.
So here we are with a new and inexperienced president. The pile of problems on his desk is huge, and none of them is simple. Pull any file out of the stack Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy, climate, energy and it would be pretty easy to chew on that one alone for four years and make only modest progress. He’s got the whole stack, and countless more filling the in-basket. We can only hope he gets them farmed out to good staff people who make the right decisions.
But Obama seems to understand that being president is a full-time job, not something that can be phoned in. There is a sense of calm competence about him. Law school professors often tell students that you eat an elephant the same way you eat a chicken one bite at a time. Obama seems to approach things that way. There’s a whole lot of nibbling to do, so we’d best get started. Happy days are here again, or at least on the horizon.
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Inauguration Day was a perfect bluebird day here, and I was torn between watching it on TV or skiing. Skiing won, but only because I could record the day and watch it later.
Somehow, I managed to get the international feed. It was just the raw footage. The audio was the bands and the speeches, but there were no news anchors chiming in, no commentary, no discussion of Jill Biden’s boots. When there was no official ceremony going on, I heard only the crowd and the helicopters overhead. It was a lot like being there and watching it happen, only it was warm inside.
There was something wonderful about seeing Obama sworn in, on so many levels. It was a great day to be an American.
As grand and portentous as the events in Washington were, we have the other extreme here at home as the Utah Legislature opens its regular session. They are facing a possible 15 percent budget shortfall that will force some significant cuts in state services. I noticed a new road sign on the way home the other day. UDOT has posted a sign in Francis announcing that there is "No winter maintenance between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m." on a 12-mile stretch of state highway. There aren’t a whole lot of us out here in Woodland, but apparently on a stormy night, we’re on our own. That’s probably the least of the cuts. State government is a pretty lean operation in Utah to begin with, and there no way to whack 15 percent off without noticing it.
The legislature will also be looking at the private-club provision in the liquor law. This is the infamous quirk that requires tourists to buy a "guest membership" in a bar to get a drink. Locals are barely inconvenienced by it. I don’t know anybody who actually has a membership anywhere we’re all guests of somebody. But it’s confusing to tourists and doesn’t accomplish anything. While the governor favors abolishing it, the legislature is more concerned that the liquor bottles be hidden for fear that the mere sight of a liquor bottle will turn the morally frail into raging alcoholics. Cocktails, which used to be mixed in a very public fashion from mini-bottles at your restaurant table, would now have to be mixed behind closed doors. Maybe they should be served from milk cartons. One can only hope there is also a 15 percent cut in lobbyist gifts to legislators.
It’s hard to imagine that the same process that gave us the hope and optimism symbolized by Obama also produces the petty venality of the Utah Legislature.
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.