The Inaugural Address: In search of actions to match the words
Jan. 28, 2001
I thought we could slip into our favorite taco hole for a chip and dip and enchilada or three. Fate intervened. Her opening suited the scene.
The warmth of her greeting suggested all was well with the world. I smiled. Sally's eyes flashed. And my friend pulled up a chair and offered one word to the young man taking our orders. "Corona."
As her cool one arrived, she rolled her eyes up at the waiter, pointed at me and said "his tab." Trapped again by a disarming lady. And my use of the term "lady" is certainly subject to challenge.
I don't know if it was my charming smile or my generous hospitality but she was actually civil. More than likely it was Sally's smoothing presence. Or was it another calm before the storm?
She opened gently with a question. "Scaggs, I know you news junkies were glued to the tube for the inauguration last week. What do you think?"
I knew, of course, the "what do you think" question was not really a inquiry but a prelude to some spicy diatribe which could make my enchiladas seem bland. So I parried "I didn't watch. We were shopping at Wal-Mart."
Sally nodded a confirmation to my alibi adding "crowded as usual." A team effort at avoiding the inevitable. A failed effort at that.
Time for candor. "I think the inaugural address is a keeper. If Dubya lives into the promise his remarks created, he, too, could be a keeper."
She looked at me and laughed. "You idealistic bibliophile, you think words are reality. The guy is a politician. He never lies, he just tells everybody what he thinks they want to hear. And he's sucked you in child's play for a pro."
I tried to look wounded. Hurt. I'm accustomed to be fussed at for being negative and wordy. But who likes to be considered gullible? That's somehow different.
With the light of my life present, I had to defend my cause. "It was a good speech. The President set higher expectations for himself than most Americans have for him. He set the bar high. For the nation and for himself."
Emboldened by my friend's silence I surged along. "I can recall only bits and pieces but how about this:
A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness.'" I even repeated the sentence.
I nodded. "Probably. People don't get elected or confirmed without a bit of pandering. Nevertheless, I still appreciate the President pointing his words toward where he thinks our national conscience ought to be. It never hurts to call folk toward the high ground."
Usually my friend's adjectives range from bawdy to profane and back again. This time she resorted to her polite vocabulary. "High ground! Ha. Tell me you are not as credulous as you seem." And she glanced toward Sally. "Girl, you sure have a lot to put up with there. The man has no nose for hypocrisy. These idealists are a trial."
It was time for a little defense. "I know we are. And I make no apology for finding resonance in words like "children and community are the commitments which set us free."
That was too much. "Scaggs, convoluted hyperbole will get you every time. I suspect you got off on that line about not passing by wounded travelers on the road to Jericho. Is your head as soft as your heart?"
Thankful for the opening she offered, I jumped in with both feet. "It works at the church house, why not the statehouse?" And I sensed that, for once, I had the whip hand. So I rumbled on.
I'd gone too far. Her color rose, her eyes flashed and her tongue slashed. "I was listening but I also watch. When the guy who has been gatekeeper of the Texas death row rattles about justice and dignity the words have a hollow ring. Were those cowboy boots or brown boots?" And she went downhill from there.
Fortunately our meal arrived. As she departed I agreed to "watch the boot tracks" and I think she agreed to cut the guy a bit more slack. We'll see, won't we?
Bill Scaggs is president emeritus at Meridian Community College and a senior consulting editor for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.