Yes We Do
Posted on January 20, 2009
Reflections on the Inauguration of BHO
Capitol Hill seems to be the epicenter of the world this extended weekend. Just about everybody I know has friends or acquaintances staying at their house for the inaugural. We had some friends in from Chicago who were excited to see the man from Illinois sworn in as our nation’s 44th President. Of course, parking has been a nightmare, as has the traffic, but on the positive side, Eastern Market stayed open on Monday, so we had that going for us.
There are three kinds of Obama fans. There are the African-Americans, who see his election as a kind of personal victory. Their emotion is very real, very deep, very visceral.
Then there are the radical hippies who see this inaugural as an extension of Woodstock. They see in Obama all of their hopes for a radical change in American society. They, of course, are ecstatic, but their hopes are mixed with the fear that Obama might not be as radical as they are.
Then, you have your run-of-the-mill Democrats who are, of course, happy to see Obama as President, because they were tired of Bush, and they like the history of the moment. (A lot of Republicans fit into this category, as well). They like Obama just fine, but their concerns about the future of the country is more on their minds then the whole race thing.
All of those groups have descended on our fair little city, with a mix of great anticipation, great trepidation, and great participation. The crowds were respectful, but just in case, they were guarded by battalions of National Guard, in their Hummers and winter gear. I thought it was a bit of overkill myself, but I guess the troops would come in handy should something bad happen.
The crowds were huge nonetheless. They are started arriving in the bitter cold as early as 7 am. They filled the National Mall to the brim from the Capitol all the way back to the Lincoln Memorial. Thank God for Jumbotrons! Despite the big crowd, there was plenty of wiggle-room for the industrious. Our friends, for example, were able to worm their way to the West front of the Capitol building without much resistance, to within 50 yards of the podium.
The action on the stage did not go off completely without a hitch. Rick Warren, Mr. Purpose driven, pretty much yelled his invocation. Some bitter-end Democrats booed lustily when George Bush came down the stage in a show of the complete absence of class. Either John Roberts or BH Obama screwed up the oath of office, and then stumbled over themselves in an awkward moment. And then Joseph Lowery gave an embarrassing benediction that brought back memories of the worst of Jesse Jackson Sr.
Despite these glitches, the President-elect became President, and America immediately became healed. Or maybe not.
The new President’s address was well-delivered but missed a memorable line. Despite the hype, the new President didn’t demand that much from people. He didn’t talk about the importance of personal responsibility nearly as much as I thought he would. He also didn’t mention the word terrorist once in his speech, a marked departure from the previous President.
The most bittersweet moment was seeing President Bush depart the scene via helicopter just after Vice President Cheney left the scene via limo. It was a bad picture, seeing Cheney in a wheelchair like that. He reminded me Lionel Barrymore in It's a Wonderful Life.
After the President’s speech, I walked from Capitol Hill to the White House for an appointment. The long walk, mobbed by all kinds of Obama supporters and Obama-merchandise hawkers, was pretty chilly. But there was no other way to go, and on the positive side, it gave me a sense of excitement that has gripped the city.
As the new President lunched with the Senate, Senators Byrd and Kennedy collapsed. So did the stock market. Not sure if this is a sign of bad things to come or just a coincidence. But in either event, it gave a sense of foreboding to an event that should be completely joyous.
When I came home from my appointment to watch the parade on television with my wife and my son, little Jack was saying “Barack Obama” and “Yes We do”, a variation on Obama’s campaign slogan. It is still not clear what we are all going to “do” but I sure hope it’s not paying more taxes.