The Inaugural Poem as it Relates to America Today
by: Katleen Burch
On January 21, Richard Blanco read his poem One Today at the inauguration of President Barack Obama’s second term as President of the United States. Joining the ranks of Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, Richard Blanco touted many firsts as an inaugural poet: youngest, first Hispanic, and first openly gay. Blanco’s diversity did not go unannounced or unnoticed. The Twitter account of the official Presidential Inaugural Committee (@obamainaugural) tweeted a link with the inaugural poem on Inauguration Day: ‘‘One Today,’ an original poem by first Hispanic, LGBT, and youngest ever inaugural poet.’
The Hispanic, gay, and youth votes have all been touted as three segments of the American electorate who voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama in the 2012 national election. Certainly, Obama’s selection of Blanco could be a hat tip to his voters, a relatively small but visible gesture to diversity and inclusiveness.
In an interview with PBS’s Jeffrey Brown, Blanco expressed his hope that he ‘was selected first and foremost for respect and admiration for my work.’ He did admit ‘it is a tremendous honor, I mean one can’t help but think of all those firsts as you [Brown] just mentioned.” He also shared that this poem seeks to emphasize national unity and address the question of what it means to be an American.
Blanco eases us into his work by echoing the well-worn phrases of our national melodies, evocative of the American skies, mountains, plains, lakes, and rivers. Much like Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue or a Norman Rockwell painting, Blanco seeks to portray a detailed kaleidoscope of the diverse regions and geographies of the United States.
But more than conjure a vivid tableau of Americana, Blanco’s piece addresses an integral aspect of what unifies us as Americans: the American Dream. The hope that through honest, hard work, you can improve your lot and give your children more than you ever had is what has drawn immigrants to the United States century after century. Blanco’s parents are one such example, having fled from Castro’s communist regime to give their sons a better life. In the poem, Blanco makes reference to his father’s hands, worn from ‘cutting sugar cane so that my brother and I could have books and shoes.’ He also credits his mother for her work ringing up groceries twenty years ago ‘so that I could write this poem.’ Blanco’s life gives witness to the American Dream, which he iterates in the aforementioned interview: ‘to go from being a little Cuban kid from Miami and all of a sudden being asked to speak before the nation, for the nation, to the nation, it’s just amazing.’
How, though, does this poem relate to the America of 2012? Where do we find the American Dream after four years of Obama politics and policies? Is it in the unrelenting rates of unemployment that have not dipped below 7.8% since Obama’s tenure in office? Does it lie in the inefficient and staggering costs of entitlement programs which constitute the largest portion of our immoral national debt of $16.5 trillion (that’s an immoral $52,243 per citizen or an immoral $145,853 per tax payer)? Do we experience the American Dream when businesses do not hire because of public-sector growth, excessive regulation, labor-market interference, and tax complexity?
Our system of free enterprise is what makes the American Dream possible. Never has a system created more prosperity for a greater amount of people. Yet often the leftist narrative reads that somehow our dreams are at odds with each other. That if someone has been successful, it has necessarily been at the expense of another. This past election period reminded us that not all politicians, and certainly not the Obama administration, recognize the bounty of free enterprise. We did not hear about how Obama planned to strengthen the American economy. Instead, we heard from the Obama Campaign about how women should ‘vote like their lady parts depended on it’ and that the Republican candidate would not stand for gay rights because ‘he believes we [the LGBT community] do not deserve it.’ Its façade is that of inclusivity, but in fact this divisive language has done nothing but create artificial societal cleavages.
Yet, Blanco reminds us that diversity does not discord make. We are one American people with a common dream. We are not at odds with each other. Mr. President, the citizens of the United States—not just the ones who voted for you—are holding you accountable. We will defend the American Dream.