Mona Charen

Mr. Obama chose two pop stars and a dreadful poet (see Andrew Ferguson's exegesis in the Weekly Standard). Beyonce was appropriately dressed for the occasion. But who could fail to picture her as she usually appears when performing?

An inauguration should be august. Obama's second was pedestrian. It seemed to suggest, through it's undistinguished music, leaden rhetoric and shallow poetry, that to aim high was some sort of offense against the democratic (or Democratic?) spirit.

That is the very opposite of the truth. We've lost a great deal of the cultural ambition that characterized America in the post-war 20th century. That was a time when Leonard Bernstein was a fixture on television, offering "young people's concerts" that weren't just for the young. It was a time when Mortimer Adler sold millions of copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica's Great Books compendium to the vast American middle class. Newly economically secure Americans were hungry to sample the best that had been thought and written and eager to expand their musical horizons. Publishers coined the term "middle brow" for this audience and perhaps intended it derisively. But it was a sign of national growth and confidence, not weakness.

This was before the multicultural assault. Accordingly, anyone from any background felt that the great works of Western civilization were their inheritance, too.

When I entered college, I didn't feel "alienated" by reading Plato because I wasn't Greek, nor excluded from the works of Shakespeare because I wasn't male, nor particularly appreciative of Herman Melville because I was American. The intellectual straightjacket of race, class, gender was still in the future.

The American spirit at its best aims high -- and not just for the few, but for everyone. A presidential inauguration is a ceremony that ratifies our beliefs and reminds us of what is best. As such, it should be celebrated with high art, not American Idol.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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