The Gloom and Cheer of Obama's Second Inauguration

a | A

By Margaret Carlson and Jim Kelly

This week Jim Kelly and Margaret Carlson are corresponding about the inauguration. Kelly is the former editor of Time magazine (and of Carlson) and is now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.

Margaret: Jim -- we're reunited at last, and this time you can't edit me!

I'm not as cheerful as I was back in our days at Time. Nor am I as cheerful about this inauguration as I was about the last one. Last time was so historic, with so much pageantry and so many people and so much hope. The idea was that Bush's wars would end and the economy would boom, as it always seems to do under Democrats.

Jim: Well, Margaret, I am already more cheerful than you because I live in New York, where the city never shuts down just for a parade and some parties. And to be fair, those wars are taking fewer U.S. lives, while the stock market (if not you) is higher today than it was four years ago.

Margaret: Second inaugurations are never as hopeful as first ones, but that's only part of it. The world is gloomier, from the trivial -- Lance Armstrong's confession, Manti Te'o's made-up tragedy, the 11-inch foot-long Subway sandwich -- to the frightening: We have a Congress that drives perilously close to the edge of the cliff. Then there is the profoundly sad: The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, last month  consumed President Barack Obama last week. He is trying to do something about a country in which six-year old schoolchildren look up from their desks to find a madman with a gun aimed at them and no Mom or Dad to come and make it all better.

The president put all his political capital on the line, but most people's money is on the National Rifle Association. Newtown changed the president -- but I'm not sure it changed enough members of Congress to make a difference. Listen to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shilly-shally trying to give Democrats cover to vote against the president to save their jobs.

Jim: Please don't tell me you are shocked that Harry Reid is taking a back seat on this one. A full embrace of the president's position would make him minority leader of the Senate in 2014. I do think Obama gets a bum rap for not pursuing gun control during his first term. He had enough to do. And I am more optimistic than you about Obama's ability to blunt the power of the NRA, especially if it continues to put out ads dragging Sasha and Malia into the debate.

This is a legislative battle that Obama had to fight -- and one that he can afford to lose politically as long as he is seen as giving it his all. This White House has a spotty record on grand bargains, but I cannot imagine a total defeat on this issue.

Margaret: My family doesn't call me Debbie Downer for nothing.

But who doesn't love a parade? I'll be watching in between drinking and eating at the Time office here. It has the best view, catty-corner from the White House. The city is transformed. The reviewing stands are up (as are, Debbie Downer alert, all the Jersey barriers to keep out truck bombs) as we prepare for a cross between a state fair and a wedding. I love the processional from inside the Capitol to the inaugural stand, when all the luminaries (who won't be sworn in but think they should be) walk down the aisle to await the president and his family. The highlight last time was former Vice President Dick Cheney arriving in a wheelchair, healthy but immobilized from a pulled back muscle, completing his transformation into Old Man Potter from "It's a Wonderful Life."

Jim: Ha! You should skip the inauguration and head out to Sundance, where they are unveiling a documentary about the former vice president: "The World According to Dick Cheney." A better title might have been, "Je Ne Regrette Rien." Oh wait. I am not sure Cheney likes the French, so let's just call it, "No Regrets." He says in the film that he is OK with being called mean and nasty because he knows torture saved lives. So being compared to Old Man Potter is a step up for him.

Margaret: Now who's being a Dougie Downer? To end on a positive note, the president goes into his second term wised up. He's not going to pick fights -- the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has the public giving him high marks for his temperament -- but he isn't going to be driven by the distant and foolish dream of bipartisanship.

As he takes the oath, Obama will be in enemy territory of the House. Republicans have a 26 percent approval rate, the second lowest ever, and deservedly so. Just back from their retreat in Williamsburg, Virginia, they weren't in much of a mind to do more than improve their "messaging" as opposed to their "doing." The after-dinner speaker was introduced as providing a "vision" for the party going forward. He has an inner one, no doubt -- he's the blind adventurer who climbed Mount Everest -- but I can't resist the metaphorical. One seminar was on explaining what the debt ceiling actually means to the Tea Party group. Word is they are doubling down on guns, gunk, and on giving immigrants and gays short shrift.

Who wouldn't be gloomy? As always, I'm open to your powers to cheer me up. Or the president's, I suppose.

Read more quick commentary from Bloomberg View at the Ticker.

-0- Jan/20/2013 23:55 GMT