Enjoy the History, Ignore the Politics

Why conservatives should be looking forward to the Obama inauguration.

President Obama marks his one-year anniversary in office on Wednesday. As part of Slate’s coverage, Rachael Larimore gave a conservative’s view of the inaugural festivities. Larimore’s commentary, first published the day before the inauguration, is reprinted below. Slate’s full coverage of the inauguration is here.

As a conservative, I think I may actually enjoy Barack Obama’s inauguration more than my many Obama-supporting friends. I’m not planning a special trip to Washington, D.C., or stocking up on commemorative coins or coffee cups. Throughout the campaign, I considered Obama to be an impressive orator, a compelling candidate, and, as we got closer to November, the likely victor. But, at the end of the day, he was still—in my eyes—just a politician, and, perhaps more distressing to his legions of fans,  a human being. My hopes and expectations for Obama, therefore, are much more reasonable, and I will be able to take in the history and the pomp without the accompanying anxiety that Inauguration Day will bring to my more liberal friends.

For years, conservatives liked to mock those who became unhinged in their hatred of President Bush by saying they had Bush Derangement Syndrome. I could see a similar malady developing over the next four years: Obama Disillusionment Syndrome. And I fear that many of the same folks now just recovering from BDS are most at risk for ODS. Is it possible for anyone—even the great Obama—to live up to such heightened expectations?

We’ve already seen hints of this anxiety. Look at the tumult that resulted from Obama announcing that Rick Warren would give the inaugural invocation. Gays and lesbians who supported Obama  canceled their inaugural parties  and  debated whether Obama was reaching out  to those with different views or overreaching and selling out.

The conventional wisdom is that Obama has had a smooth transition, but from my perspective, I saw more than a few bumps. He upset the anti-war left by picking Hillary Clinton for secretary of state. The Bill Richardson snafu showed that maybe his vetting process wasn’t perfect. And even though Obama wasn’t implicated in the Rod Blagojevich mess and subsequent Roland Burris kerfuffle, the way the Democrats handled it can’t put too many people at ease as to how Congress is going to perform, even with a majority in both houses.

Obama has an unenviable list of concerns waiting for him on Jan. 20: the economy, the fighting in Israel and the Gaza Strip, the decision on whether to close Guantanamo Bay. (What does it mean  if he issues an order  to close it within a week of taking office, but it takes a year to get it done?) The Iraq war is no longer something he can campaign against—it’s now something he has to oversee. His supporters are waiting with bated breath to see how quickly and how often he can repudiate the policies of the Bush administration. But what happens the first time he has to make a hard decision about a threat to our nation? And if he errs on the side of security over liberty, who is going to be angrier—the left or the right? Ironically, I think he’s more likely to get a pass from those of us who got tired of hearing how President Bush has been shredding the Constitution for the last eight years.

This doesn’t mean the Republicans can kick back and put their feet up while disappointed liberals go on the attack. If and when Obama does something we disagree with, we have the right and obligation to speak out, as Bush’s opponents have been doing for the last eight years. But, more important, we have our own list of unenviable tasks waiting come Jan. 20. The party is in disarray. There’s no consistent message, other than the e-mails I get from various groups asking me to “help shape the new Republican Party.” The contest for the RNC chairmanship  has been a comedy of errors, and House Republicans are  unhappy about rule changes  that they believe will hinder their ability to challenge legislation in Congress. And now  conservative writer Jennifer Rubin  points out another problem: Obama’s move to the center since winning the election threatens the party’s very existence.

My fellow conservatives, take a deep breath. In four years—actually, the next presidential campaign will begin in about two and a half years—the economy will either have recovered, in which case defeating Obama will be almost impossible, or we will still be floundering and we’ll want to throw the bum out. That’s how our democracy works. Oh, sure, I suppose Obama could be ineffective and still get re-elected. But if that’s the case, I’ll save my sour attitude for the 2013 inauguration.

In the meantime, I plan to watch the Inauguration Day festivities, even if for a Republican they feel a bit like hanging around for the trophy presentation after your team just blew the Super Bowl. I have no bitterness left from the election—there were no controversial vote tallies, no charges of fraud or cheating—and I think that Obama won a fair campaign against John McCain, a great American whose service to and sacrifice for his country deserve respect, regardless of whether you agree with his politics. As long as the networks don’t cut away to Obama spraying a cigar-chomping Joe Biden with champagne in the Oval Office, there’s no reason not to tune in.