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Moats: Whitman's America Today

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http://www.vpr.net/audio/programs/56/2013/01/01252013_vpr_moats.mp3

(Host) Commentator David Moats has recently been on a journey through America - that all came together in Washington this week, when the nation inaugurated a new president.

(Moats) Walt Whitman is a poet best known for celebrating all of life - American life - from the docks of Mannahatta, as he called it, to the coasts of Florida, the Rio Grande and beyond.

Over the last few months I've had the occasion to take several trips - a kind of Whitmanesque tour of America.I'm struck by the breadth of it, the variousness, poverty, wealth, history, beauty.

My most recent trip was to the Inauguration, a ceremony designed to capture the grandeur and greatness of our democratic experiment. There on the National Mall a happy multitude looked toward the Capitol dome to watch a ceremony that was simple, brief and affirming. Yet in that august setting I couldn't forget what Ihad seen during the past few months.

In November I drove through Mississippi Delta country, past expansive rice and corn fields and tiny impoverished towns of shotgun shacks and ramshackle churches. In one town, on a Sunday morning, I saw two men navigating broken sidewalks in motorized wheelchairs, which seemed like the most ambitious capital outlay in sight.

In South St. Louis, I drove down a long boulevard of working class shops and homes - the nail salon, the auto shop, the pizza joint - America at its most ordinary, the America of people just getting by, America of every race, not rich, not exactly poor.

In my travels I saw little of glitzy, affluent America. Inmost places you have to know where to look for the fancy houses and the country clubs. But when I was in Washington state, I found myself in one of the most glitzy towns of all.

We went to a movie in Bellevue, home of Microsoft, at a glistening mall where the corridors were lined with shiny terracotta-colored marble, and many of the people had that unmistakable self-satisfied patina of great wealth.

This was the country that inaugurated a president on Monday - the country that encompasses Talullah, Louisiana and Bellevue, Washington - a place of sun -blasted farm fields, hardscrabble city streets and immense riches.

A Whitmanesque tour reveals why President Obama won re-election. America is mostly not rich. It comprises great multiplicity, which was on display at the inauguration - all the strands that make up the fabric, leading back to Africa, Mexico, Europe, Asia. The country club set that might have elected Obama's opponent is part ofthe picture, but only part.

On the way back from the celebration, I drove through the rugged coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania and the expansive valleys of central New York to my tiny village, cloaked in snow, peaceful and still, beneath the arctic air.

Every time we become infatuated with ourselves - our individual histories and complaints and demands - we need to remember the whole.

We, all of us, as a whole, had a moment, together, this week.