We Live in the Age of Ambiguity

On Tuesday, Barack Husein Obama became the 44th president of the United States amid fanfare that was simply unprecedented. Millions flocked to the Washington and filled the streets of Washington in numbers that were simply breathtaking. Thousands showed up as early as 3:30 a.m. to fill the Washington Mall to see—and hear—history in the making. When you consider that African Americans were still being asked to sit in the back of buses only five decades ago, it is quite an extraodinary achievement to inaugerate our first African American president in any of our lifetimes. After 43 white men it was history that shall be heralded for generations to come, and one could not help but be moved by the stunning events.     

I take that back. There is one group that failed to be moved, and that was the traders on Wall Street. While all of the presidential events were playing out amidst much enthusiasm, captivating much of the country, far more people and institutions were selling stocks rather than buying them, sending the Dow Jones Industrials plumetting by a whopping 332 points or by more than 4 percent (the S&P and NASDAQ fell by more than 5 percent). It was the worst stock market performance on inauguration day ever.

Forget the fact that President Obama has promised an $800 billion rescue (or stimulus) package. Forget that President Obama will get the other half of the TARP (the bailout money) to throw at the financial crisis (and demanding more accountability with this portion of the money). Wall Street, the most skeptical street on the planet, could care less.

There were other ambiguities as well. On a day that Obama spoke of responsibility, bringing people together and bipartanship, a single Republican held up Hillary Clinton’s confirmation as Secretary of State. Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas made sure that Clinton would not be confirmed on Tuesday as originally planned. The fact that she would undoubtedly be confirmed in a day or two is beside the point: there are still members of congress playing politics on a day that was supposed to go off without a hitch.

We live in the age of ambiguity, and we had better get used to it. Things will only get murkier in the days and months ahead.          

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