Some presidential inaugural comparisons…

January 20, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

The first inaugural ceremony I ever watched was Eisenhower’s second in 1957. I was eight years old and in third grade and my mom let me stay home from school and watch it on TV. It was her idea, not mine (I did not object). I’m not sure why she wanted me to watch, but maybe it was because the local high school band was in the inaugural parade, and we did see them on TV (my sister was in high school at the time, but I don’t recall that she stayed home).

While I did see the Tulare, Ca. Union High School Redskin Marching Band, I was just as interested in seeing the street cars in Washington DC, shown on the television. They reminded me of the ones in my hometown of San Francisco. I understand DC abandoned them by 1963. They were replaced with buses. We were already going off track way back then.

I haven’t really keyed in on inaugurals since, but I don’t recall there being so much excitement for one in my lifetime as there is for the one for Barack Obama. Of course it is an historical occasion, him being the first black American president – and no doubt you’ve heard that fact mentioned several times today and yesterday and will tomorrow.

I also watched John F. Kennedy’s inaugural in 1961. The only things I really remember about that one was the fact that he wore a top hat and I thought it looked funny on him. And despite the fact that he did wear that hat for the ceremony, he may have been the first president to go around hatless on most other occasions (that marked a generational change). He had that unique Kennedy brush (I just made up that description as far as I know) hairdo and was forever moving the hair out of his eyes with one hand. It was a cold day for his inaugural I recall too. You could see the breath come out of his mouth.

And I remember the line in his inaugural speech: “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” And it seems as if that might be appropriate now. And I recall that funny, but pleasing, and stylish the way he did it, Kennedy/Massachusetts accent. In later speeches he would talk about Cuba, but it came out like “Cuber”. And if you impersonate him (which I think I have down pat) you have to use the phrase: “well, just let me say this about tha(e)t”. I don’t know if he ever actually used that phrase, but I think he did.

I do know that folks were excited about Kennedy because of his youth and the promise that a new generation was taking over and the nation would be revitalized. I was too young to realize what the public mood was, but I guess the go-go of the post war boom and the Fabulous Fifties had warn down somewhat and it seemed like the aged set of which Eisenhower was part needed to be replaced with new and younger blood.

It was a tight race between Kennedy and Richard Nixon, so not everyone was so enthused, I’m sure. But I do recall that the new occupants of the White House, the glamorous young man and his glamorous and refined and charming wife, and the two adorable kids, brought the element of celebrity (and family too) and even idol worship to the presidential home and office. In fact, as the time wore on, some worried that we had created a new royalty in the Kennedys and the whole affair was named Camelot, after a popular play at the time about the mythical King Arthur.

And while in conservative right wing and still predominantly white country where I live the tone seems somewhat subdued (and many folks don’t get too excited around here about any politics), the current television coverage indicates this Obama thing is Camelot and then some.

With the nation truly facing what may be its biggest economic crisis ever, one that I think could dwarf even the Great Depression, and the fact it is waging wars in the Middle East and faces constant terrorist threats (even if Bush, playing on the real 9/11, exaggerated some, common sense tells us they are there), there are great expectations for Mr. Obama, President Obama by the time most read this.

While the adulation being poured on our new President Obama may already be wearing thin with some or certainly soon will be, if that is what it takes to inspire a nation to rise from the ruins of irresponsibility or terribly bad luck or whatever, I say so be it.

P.s. I think much of the news coverage is being indulgent with the emphasis on what this all means to Black America and that this is somehow finally a movement toward addressing the wrongs of slavery. And convenient it is that the inauguration of the first black president comes the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But after today (Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2008, Inauguration Day) we need to move on and address how all of us will survive. We are greatly weakened by a failing economic system. We are facing somewhat of a new economic order on the world scale. And we have enemies who would like to exploit this situation. The last president inaccurately described himself as a “uniter not a divider”. Our new one promises to take over that mantra and make good on it – so far so good.

A shot at survival…

June 23, 2008



By Tony Walther

Seems as if we need a moon shot approach to solve our energy problem. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik back in the 1950s, we, the U.S., panicked, thinking that the Russians had far surpassed us in technology.

I think that panic helped get John Kennedy elected president in 1960. He was young, he was a Democrat and the current administration at the time was Republican, and he talked about vigor, which he pronounced as something like “viga,” in that Irish-tinged Boston area accent. I saw him when he campaigned and he came through Marysville, Ca. He gave a speech from the back of a train as they used to do (the whistle stop tour). With his red hair and freckles, he looked like the all-American boy. Richard Nixon, his opponent, was young too (both men were in their 40s and both were World War II veterans), but Nixon was the vice president, and he was not so handsome, and represented the administration of the aging Dwight Eisenhower (Ike), a kindly grandfatherly man, who led us to victory in World War II as Supreme Allied Commander (five star Gen. Eisenhower). The political cartoons of the day always showed Ike playing golf while the world problems festered around him. Actually, though, as I recall, there was not a lot of difference in the platforms of Nixon or Kennedy and in the end it was a close election. Some have even suggested that Nixon would have won if it were not for dead folks in Chicago showing up on the election rolls.

As fate would have it, it all turned into disaster for both men. Kennedy was assassinated in office and Nixon would go on to win the presidency later in the decade, get re-elected and then find himself forced to resign in disgrace, the only president ever to do so.

But I began this piece by writing about the need for a moon shot. Kennedy promised that we would go to the moon. And we did, within the decade of the 60s. Although the Russians gave us a run for the money, we clearly surpassed them in the space race and developed all types of new technologies along the way. But we got kind of jaded with the whole thing, and although I presume we still are the leaders in space technologies, it would not be hard for me to imagine being surpassed by the Chinese or someone else, should we remain relatively complacent.

Now I know you’ve heard this one before from others, but I believe that we need an increased emphasis on science in our schools. For too long we have emphasized marketing over engineering and production of real things and technologies. We’d rather be salesmen than inventors and producers and innovators.

The problem, I suppose, is there is not a lot of quick riches in science. That may change as the energy crisis worsens and we are forced to innovate or perish.

And do we have to give up our way of life? Maybe yes, maybe no. If we work fast enough and hard enough, our technology might catch up with our way of life.

I think we are going to see some major changes over the next few years, but I don’t see that they will all be negative. We should be able to adapt to new realities. Oil can’t last forever. Something is happening with our weather (not sure we can control that, but ignoring the phenomenon seems foolish), and the rest of the world will not settle for being under our thumb (we don’t want to be under anyone else’s, I must quickly add).

All the energy and resources we’ve put into “fighting them over there” could have been and could be put into fighting for something over here: Survival.

Note to readers:

After a hiatus, I’ve got my Tuleville Sundown novel going again (a step back in time to the 1950s). You can access that at

If you click the little red list view near the top of the page to the right of my Anthony Walther name you can get the list of the posts, go to the bottom, Tuleville Sundown, my first page, and at the bottom of that click next post and then read it in sequence and catch up. Meanwhile, I’ll try to stay ahead of you.