Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

Monday’s inauguration of President Barack Obama for a second term was historic for many reasons – a man of color took the oath of office for a second time; the vice presidential oath was administered by Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, a gay poet read a narrative poem for the occasion, and pop stars sang anthems as though it was a Super Bowl extravaganza. Interestingly, the vice presidential oath of office is twice as long as the simple 35 word requirement mandated by Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. The vice president swears to defend “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and takes the oath “without mental reservation or purpose of evasion.” Perhaps it was easier to write a longer vice presidential oath by custom than it was to amend the Constitution!

As I listened to President Obama’s second inaugural speech, I compared his lofty aspirations to Fairfax County, and the efforts we make to achieve those goals. Hard work, personal responsibility, security and dignity, responding to climate change, and finding sustainable energy sources, are linchpins in county policy, too. Increased access to health clinics, disability services, ensuring that our older residents remain healthy and active through public and private programs, and adoption of energy efficient standards for new construction are just a few of the hallmarks of local efforts that are crucial to improving our community.

In one brief paragraph, President Obama embraced a wide diversity of current issues which, quite frankly, have tended to divide people. The metro area has one of the highest percentages of working women in the nation, so his comment about the earnings gap for women was especially welcome. I also appreciated his clarion call for equal rights for all people when he highlighted “our gay brothers and sisters.” Fixing the long waits for voting last November got a lot of applause from the hundreds-of-thousands of people assembled on the Mall, as did his hopeful message to immigrants who just want to succeed in America.

Recognizing that the Founding Fathers did not expect us to “agree on every contour of life,” the president went on to point out that name-calling is not reasoned debate, absolutism should not be mistaken for principle, and spectacle definitely is not politics. While some analysts attributed his remarks as commentary about last year’s contentious campaign cycle, it seemed to me an indictment of the last 30 years of elections overall, as pejoratives, partisanship, and publicity often overtake thoughtful debate.

It was an exciting day, even just watching from the warm comfort of home. Curiously, the presidential oath is very similar to the one I have taken many times, as a congressional employee or as a county Supervisor (which adds “and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia” to the standard lines). Simple, succinct, and sworn, the words rest heavily on the shoulders, and the soul, of the oath-taker.


Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.