• Otter Views: Inauguration Day

    by Tom Stevens

    As if to counter the 800,000 who thronged the Eastern Seaboard for Monday’s inaugural, the Monterey Peninsula welcomed thousands of happy visitors to its own coasts. It seemed made to order: a three-day weekend, sublime weather, glassy waves, whales just offshore. Add Sunday’s 49er football victory, and there were many reasons to smile.

    I spent a fair part of inauguration day in the ocean, trying to body surf the beautiful blue combers that rolled into Asilomar and Spanish Bay. But it wasn’t all hedonism. Waiting for sets and swimming back and forth, I had time to ponder events on the opposite coast.

    There, a lanky brown guy from Hawaii, Indonesia, Harvard and Chicago took the oath of office for a second term as America’s president. I read later that he swore upon bibles that had belonged to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, and that a Latina Supreme Court justice administered the oath of office.

    Frankly, I was stoked. I realize the nation remains bitterly divided and that the president still has millions of angry detractors, but I was heartened he took the oath a second time. I was also amazed he was still standing. To have weathered four years of character assassination, legislative sabotage, “birther” idiocy and blistering media demonization suggests the man can indeed keep his cool.

    He’ll need it. As his address indicated, immense challenges lie ahead: debt resolution, immigration reform, health cost control, energy independence, minority rights, veterans’ support, gun death abatement, and climate change planning, to name a few. And those are merely the obvious ones. “Unknown unknowns” like 9-11 and the BP oil spill doubtless lie ahead as well.

    For all his manifest shortcomings as a cloakroom conciliator and hale-fellow-well-met, I give President Obama credit for courage and common sense. In this age of delusion and hysteria, it was remarkable to hear a U.S. president invoke history and science; talk openly about gay rights and climate change; even propose steps to limit future firearms massacres in the nation’s schools, malls and multiplexes.

    An account in Tuesday’s Herald mentioned that, before leaving the stand, the president turned and gazed for a reflective moment at the crowd on the National Plaza. “I won’t see this again,” he said. I might add that we won’t see a president like Obama on the inaugural stage again, either. He’s unique.

    I got that when I saw photos of then-Senator Obama bodysurfing shoulder-high shorebreak at Sandy Beach on Oahu. I knew immediately he wasn’t from Kenya. He was riding high in the pocket, parallel to shore, piked up on both hands, streaking along in the barrel. As a longtime Sandy Beach devotee, I could see this was no photo op. The guy knew what he was doing.

    He won my ballot right there. How many times will I get to vote for a presidential candidate who can bodysurf the gnarly, tubing shore pound at Sandy Beach? I will swear on Lincoln’s bible: any other candidates would have broken their necks. Now, I realize bodysurfing ability does not by itself confer statecraft, wisdom, vision and leadership, but it does teach useful presidential survival skills.

    As a Sandy Beach bodysurfer, Obama had to learn early in life to pay close attention to wave power, swell direction, backwash and currents. He learned to recognize and respond to forces beyond his control. He learned not to panic when things got crazy. He mastered planning, timing and execution. When a monster set loomed up, he learned to swim out and dive under it, not retreat up the beach.

    Monster sets are rolling in now and will likely continue through a second Obama term. A vicious civil war shatters Syria. Islamic extremists threaten Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and the Sahel. A right-wing Israeli government seeks war with Iran. Asian nations squabble over mineral rights in the South China Sea; Arctic nations do the same in the far north. And all over the globe, the industrialized world’s high-carbon hubris begets ruinous climate change.

    On domestic shores, Obama will have to contend with head-slapping backwash from Congress and the Supreme Court; wicked rip currents from the coal, oil, gas and gun lobbies; sneaker waves from rebellious state legislatures; and the powerful sucking undertow of financial corruption on Wall Street and K Street.

    It was fitting Obama invoked Lincoln and Martin Luther King, as they faced virtual tsunami conditions. Hopefully this president will only see 20-foot faces. A few of those thundered into the west coast over the weekend, triggering the Maverick’s big wave challenge. I was delighted to read that the six finalists, as they paddled out for their heat, agreed to split the $50,000 prize money equally.

    Cooperation and sharing. If only the nation could take the hint.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on January 25, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views


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