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January 21st, 2009
01:22 PM ET

Obama, and the stars

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/01/20/schneider.obama.speech/art.obama.speech.cnn.jpg]

Gloria Steinem, Bio
Feminist organizer, writer and lecturer

Watching this Inauguration, I thought of Jack Kennedy, the first President I could imagine talking to - though I never did - the first who might read the same books, even laugh at the same jokes. He stood in the cold, insisting on not wearing a coat as he took the oath of office. He seemed to be class levels above us, the distant master of an enviable world.

After he was assassinated, I remember a friend on the White House staff saying, “Now what do I do with the subscription to the village voice?” It was the killing of the future, and Nixon and Reagan would take us back to the past.

Even when Kennedy was still alive and I sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial listening to Martin Luther King Jr. speak - after a peaceful March on Washington that we had all been warned away from because it was sure to be violent - he was addressing outsiders, looking toward the time when they would be invited in.

The big question of that day was whether President Kennedy would override his political advisors, and come stand beside King in front of the crowd. Whether or not Kennedy said a word, it would have been a signal that the insiders were listening. But he never came.

Today was the first Inauguration in my lifetime without that feeling of insiders and outsiders, the leaders and the led. Even the media seemed as likely to remark on the spirit and enthusiasm of the crowd as they were to report on the principals.

Despite Obama's brilliance, he didn't try to outshine the crowd. His speech called on everyone, asked for their help, appealed to their best selves. By the end of his Inaugural address, Bush and the seated figures from the last administration seemed isolated and very old-fashioned; like a vanishing breed who still believed in power from the top-down, and had been outdated by the truth that, as Obama often says, lasting change comes from the bottom-up.

I looked at the two little girls who would sleep inside The White House for the first time. Seeing their shining faces, I couldn't help thinking about the enslaved workers who built much of that structure; the West African men born of enslaved women who somehow raised them while being forced to work themselves.

Perhaps there is some way that the molecules of the distant past can combine with the present and bridge the distance. After all, we can still see stars shine from billions of years ago.

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. KSuzanne

    In reading and hearing from all of your comments...several things come to mind.
    First, how we as humans tend to comment before we have fully researched the issue, or really read all of the print, as JC did in the above comment. JC thought Ms. Steinem was speaking about Obama, but she was speaking about Kennedy being levels above us...in prose from a writer's perspective!
    Then I also noted that other commentary was on the distractions of the day, whether or not Michelle worn her ring on one finger or the other; if Obama can really deliver from the speeches to concrete change...well folks, if you don't already know that there has been concrete change in this country, a shift in white patriarchal rule; a higher level of consciousness for not only our country but for the world; a belief in human good and decency...even if President Obama doesn't do another solitary thing...his candidacy, his election, his inauguration represents a shift in the nature of this country's political system...this change, this ideal is far more lasting and monumental than the mere human distractions we create. Of course the President will do a good job...he has done more and shown clearer vision as a leader than any President we have had for a very long time.
    Stop, look, listen and read the print!!!

    KSuzanne from San Leandro

    January 23, 2009 at 7:11 am |
  2. Blackpool

    was he really? didnt notice at all 🙁

    January 23, 2009 at 7:07 am |
  3. Helen

    President Obama's Inauguration was great . It means a lot for USA :

    To try to rebuild a New USA .
    To try to improve USA image in the world .
    To try to get mutrul respects for all the people in this world.
    To try to minimize wars to bring world more peacful.
    To make quick action to stimulate American economy .

    Not only American people feel positive, but also all over the world people feel hopeful for a better USA and a better world.

    January 23, 2009 at 6:10 am |
  4. Israel

    Hello. The United States Govt. has no right or authority in Israeli politics, and should never involve themselves in Israeli affairs and supporting Arab nations demands that Israel give up the small portion of the land that the Israelis own in the world. God will not allow Obama to infiltrate and desecrate Israel and their people, America will not succeed in any of their doings. Amen.

    Israeli

    January 23, 2009 at 2:41 am |
  5. Doris Edgar

    Too many expense put on homes. Huge insurance bills and some insurances hard to get. With me I had two things happen I had know control over it but I got their dear john letter. My friend has had many dear john letters causing so much stress. Taxes on the property unreasonable. With me I had no idea what would happen if they put in a sewer system. We were so busy working trying to just make a living. To find out later a big fee for the system and put a lien on your property. You work hard and it's like they can take your home away from you. Then to do the hook up there is back to back more permits of all kinds, The states have a lot of problems like Washington and need to do line by line clean up too. It will create a problem if it hasn't started already where no one will want to buy a home to get into all of this bucket of worms. On my property the county records lost two important things from my file. Put the heavy on me and it was their fault. Someone doesn't know their job and that shouldn't be. Something so important as records on someones property.

    January 23, 2009 at 2:36 am |
  6. melissa

    here ya go....set up regional offices staffed with workers who understand mortgage loans.....those folks reach out to owners who are in trouble.....workers contact lender headed for foreclosure and negotiate rate/terms of existing loan...a whale to work out but it creates jobs and puts $ back into economy as homeowners get the weight lifted,,,,new jobs.....pmts once again to lenders yada yada yada make as much sense as any other proposal, at least we have the chance of seeing where our $ are spent

    January 23, 2009 at 2:13 am |
  7. Geary Luft

    I feel that it is very important to remind the nation that it was under the Clinton term in office that the USA first invaded Iraq. He had told the military to leave Saddam in power back then. That was because Iraq had invaded Kuwait and Saudi which we had agreements with. This was never Bushes war it was Clinton failure that had grown beyond the generally known American public. We hold President Bush responsible for defending our safety here at home after 911. Bush is a good man that had everyone dumping on him. This thing about our base in Cuba and the prisoners there, are the worst killers of all time.
    Do we forget how they cut the heads of people on camera for the rest of the world to see how cold killers they are. These people the terrorists are far worse than Hitler. They will not wear a uniform nor abide by any rules of war themselves. Lets just send them to stay in Obama's old home. Do to the fact it is empty since he is now in the white house. It sounds foolish, but when the people that live there see the prisoners next door they will want them out of the area. Ask the families of those that were killed by these men and their friends in arms. We are dealing with the most dangerous people on earth who hate and want everyone in our country dead. Think about this for a moment please: what if after we pull out of our base in Cuba the terrorists leased the base and set up camp there. Say they launch missiles for there back into the USA. Hey the Cuban leaders hate us also. Remember the old Cuban missile crisis back in the 60s. I can remember it very well. We have the weakest president ever in history.
    He spoke of change. That is a farce he went out and brought all the old Clinton staff into his cabinet. His vice president is the very type of politician he wanted out of Washington. So tell me what the hell has changed? He has shown his soft side to the very people that will like to cut it off. May god help us and please safe guard our nation. I prey that John McCain will stay on board with his keen eye for the real world that we live in. We should also give the money out to the Small Business Administration to loan money out the those who lost there jobs, and let them start up there own small companies and create new jobs in their own home town throughout the mainstream middle America. Instead of giving it to the bankers to buy out other banks. It seems the rich get richer and the poor get the shaft. Mark my words Obama will destroy our nation in less than 48 months unless the rest of our government keeps him on a short leash. I hope the checks and balances that was built into our government keep our nation safe. If our nation fails the world could fail. I am a very concerned American

    January 23, 2009 at 1:59 am |
  8. Mitchell Charlote

    HI ! Mr. Cooper,

    I'am making a comment about what a women said about President Obama, that he was closing his eyes and pretending that he was not surround by thousands of people. It aired on 1.22.09 at 11:50pm. I believe that he is a praying person (Christian) and that this was what he was doing at that particular time, he is not a weak person.
    Respectfully, Mitchell

    January 23, 2009 at 1:35 am |
  9. Fawnda

    Spending 100,000 to re-decorate the White house. Is this tax payer money? I think the President should have to pay for this himself. That is a combined 3 or 4 years of salary for many people. Many people who have now lost that income. I can't relate.

    January 23, 2009 at 1:33 am |
  10. Larry

    I think it would have sent a clear message to all of my fellow americans if they had someone or group sing the great song by the Hollies 'He Ain't Heavy'.

    January 23, 2009 at 1:09 am |
  11. Darlene, Pasadena California

    I sincerely hope that the media allows President Obama to get in the office and allow him to feel his way and not scrutinize every little thing he does. Please permit him the privledge of being the president. He never said he was the messiah. He has stated that we, as Americans have to work together in order to perfect a perfect union. Let him govern! It takes time. We were in a mess prior to him taking the oath of office. Come on now, let him work with the senators and congressmen and women that we elected to help run our government. I feel like I can no longer watch the news, CNN or otherwise. Just let President Obama and his family be! Give change a chance! I'm confident that he will bring about the necessary changes and speed our country into recovery given the time and less criticism.

    January 23, 2009 at 12:28 am |
  12. Judy-nyc

    i marched down 5th Avenue in NYC in the women's equality movement...of which you were one of the organizers. i still have my badge & memories from that day. and earlier, reading about you in Glamour magazine & later, watching you represent us so gracefully & intelligently.
    what you've written here perfectly embodies some of the connections & feelings i had during Obama's inauguration.
    it's very late at nite...oops!...next day...but had to leave comments feeling so moved by your thoughts.

    January 23, 2009 at 12:26 am |
  13. Calonie J

    That President Obama expresses himself and behaves the way he does is a mix of his humble background, his grabbing viewpoints from so many avenues in his life, his rise into areas of success and responsibilities, and his connection to people in general.
    I don't know him personally at all, but I often get a feeling of humility and, at once, dignity from him. I don't believe he is "class levels above us" because all humans possess some area to be admired (and it isn't always status – in fact that's the least important measure).
    He won't be perfect (is anyone?), but I pray with God, he'll do the best he can and what's right using his fresh take on politics.
    I admire him quite much and as a visual artist, even created a beautiful (yes, tooting my own horn) of him. I hope one day he will see and have it.

    January 23, 2009 at 12:18 am |
  14. Pat Canada

    Hollywood Stars to be recognized? Don't get it in association with Obama? We don't have Hollywood Stars to garner approval from here so maybe that's why I can't understand the statement.

    Joe – maybe you didn't see what you thought you saw, or maybe Obama gave her a new ring in celebration of being First Lady and she has to get it re-sized? If what you saw is actual or isn't I can assure you of this – The Obamas are very much in love I would bet my last pay cheque they're planning on being married for years to come. But if not, what possible difference would it make for you or me? I never jump to conclusions without certified proof on anything as the only thing I know for sure is what I'm doing and why.

    January 23, 2009 at 12:08 am |
  15. Liza

    President Obama means well, but I'm still concerned. He is a humanitarian and wants innocent people caught in the middle of these crappy wars to get medical help, food, etc. That's all good, but here's where the problem lies, with the exception of Israel, most people from the Middle East do not have the same mentality that everyone else has. You give them a hand and they'll stab you in the back. I pray President Obama is not taken for a fool. I hope he realizes that these people cannot be trusted. I have never felt the same after 911 and if you give them a chance they'll do it again and again and again.
    Being a Democrat doesn't have to mean you're weak. One of the reasons I liked Reagan so much was his ability to defend this country and his straight forward message to the world that you cannot mess with the United States of America. Love is the most powerful weapon, but for those who are full of hate you have to kick their butt!

    January 23, 2009 at 12:03 am |
  16. xtina, chicago IL

    today was the first Inauguration in my lifetime without that feeling of insiders and outsiders, the leaders and the led

    well, there are 57 million people who didnt vote for this President; generally those are the productive Americans, the ones who don't come out to protest, but are out earning the money that will go towards Joe Biden's vision of the Patriotic Taxpayer stepping up to the plate now to fund Barack Obama's changed America. And Barack Obama should be nice to the people and the companies who will put out all these billions in taxes.

    January 22, 2009 at 11:54 pm |
  17. Moe

    The money issue as it relates to the bail outs is all wrong. It is not a question of bottm-up or top-down approaches. It is a question of what do all crisis mangers do in a crisis.

    Create safety first (the safest place and what can boost in confidence is that one has a roof over one's head)

    The crisis started with housing and the solution needs to start there as well.
    This will reinforce confidence in the banking system that is currrently given to concerns of not having an income source from this crisis. By renegotiating the deals will allow flow of some bank income instead of none.

    January 22, 2009 at 10:26 pm |
  18. Julia Kahrl

    Let us look at what Obama has done, by developing an incredible grassroots organization throughout the country, involving people of all ages, including some too young to vote but old enough to volunteer in the campaign. His campaign demonstrated that he wants to include everyone in the process of rebuilding this country. He has inspired volunteer service, already set ethical and transparency standards, and brought more people together than ever before. Some may say that hope is a vapor, yet hope is what energizes people to unite and build together. Let us all pray that Obama will lead us well, and that we will be able to bring justice and prosperity to all in the years to come.

    January 22, 2009 at 10:08 pm |
  19. Franky

    I don't know but the only thing I want from Hollywood is a contract, anything else, they're on their own...you know you want this Hollywood.

    January 22, 2009 at 8:32 pm |
  20. Patty

    Yeah what about the wonderful comments by what's his name Jayze or whatever it is. What an idiot.

    January 22, 2009 at 8:31 pm |
  21. Annie Kate

    As I watched the inauguration I couldn't help but think that finally good sense had returned to our government along with youth and energy and a "can do" attitude with an emphasis on the people instead of big business. I hope the promise glimpsed in that crisp winter air will stay around and work for us instead of melting away with time.

    January 22, 2009 at 8:22 pm |
  22. stephen

    the rich could help,but they dont, they should pick up their bibles,they may have wealth here, but God will see them in the end!!!!!! share , help others, seek us out, we are poor and dont need much.

    January 22, 2009 at 7:35 pm |
  23. stephen

    heip us, get what we need ,so we dont lose all we worked for,stimulate us ,the little guy,those people the gov. gives to are crominals, just like our goverment, when will we begin to take care of our own instead of the fatcats and the world

    January 22, 2009 at 7:24 pm |
  24. stephen

    everyone forgets in hard times, small people need help, not just big business

    January 22, 2009 at 7:19 pm |
  25. stephen

    im a havenot ilost my job obama help me

    January 22, 2009 at 7:17 pm |
  26. stephen

    why is everyone so happy with a new leader, iwant to see somnething done for the havenots

    January 22, 2009 at 7:16 pm |
  27. Mojustice

    I found Ms. Steinem's words quite kind & thoughtful. Despite the fact that we have yet to elect a woman into the highest political office in the land, she was able to recognize and in a sense, celebrate this historic moment. I find that white folks tend to devalue practices and positions of privilege that were once held sacred, after these positions have been integrated by people of color. There will continue to be a class & racial divide in US because many whites are threatened by the thought of a nation of empowered individuals who happen to brown & black. Racially privileged white folks are only concered about losing their jobs to people of color. Settle down. your jobs are safe. Its the economy you should fear, not people of color. I believe it commendable the number of entertainers who participated in this historic campaign and election. Most American entertainers and athletes, come from humble beginnings. After all, it is our economic system, capitalism, that enables celebrities to earn so much money. The very economic system that recently suffered a collapse and remains in tatters.

    January 21, 2009 at 4:58 pm |
  28. Mary

    it is so sad to think we are leaning on the hollywood stars for approval and to be reckonized, how sad we've become. to think they are more important then the common man. who works much harder then them, just because they make more money, does not make them and there oppinion more important then ours. how sick. and narrowed minded,

    January 21, 2009 at 3:05 pm |
  29. Joe

    I noticed something as I watched the inauguration and the inaugural balls. President Obama was wearing his wedding ring on the left ring finger but the First Lady was not wearing one on her left ring finger. However she was wearing a big ring on her left middle finger. Could soemeone explain that?

    January 21, 2009 at 2:58 pm |
  30. Will P

    When he was talking about class levels above us, he was not addressing Obama, but Kennedy.

    January 21, 2009 at 2:44 pm |
  31. Judy Stage/Brooklyn MI

    I don't remember your age Gloria but perhaps I am in your generation. I have lived in small village, (Brooklyn MI), not far from Clark Lake by the way, for 34 years and raised six children and in my own way was a feminist before it was cool. I defended the rights of women in the work place on a very small scale at my place of employment I never got fired for it but that was a threat. Oh so long ago!!
    IMHO the election of Barack Obama, who seems to hold dear the values of our parents and other great men and women of America will transform the consciousness of this great country to one of great expectations, starting with each one of us doing what we can for the greater good of the whole.
    In my mind we create what we think about and his thoughts are so positive, his message will take hold in a substantial critical mass of humanity and produce the positive effects that he envisions, because we will also envision them..
    It is my prayer that he will make the right decisions and the journey of the American people will improve the paths of all people in all countries on this earth.

    January 21, 2009 at 2:37 pm |
  32. JC- Los Angeles

    Speak for yourself when characterizing Obama as "class levels above us."

    As a registered Independent who voted for Obama and someone who was raised properly and possesses class, compassion, ethics and dignity, it is the height of hypocrisy to hear praise bestowed upon someone who has yet to accomplish anything tangible.

    While we live in a Facebook world, here's hoping President Obama proves to be more than the ultimate face man and leaves behind a legacy that is to be truly admired by all.

    January 21, 2009 at 1:44 pm |

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