Inauguration Day

History and the peaceful transition of government: welcome to a new era with the inauguration of 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama.

I felt proud and happy for Joe Biden and being sworn in by J. Stevens. It was a bit of a keystone for a big career and life of Biden.

But, the key moment was in seeing the day I didn’t think I’d see, but glad we have – history – the first black President of the United States, sworn in.

Dahlia Lithwick on the little error in the swearing-in of President Obama. I took it as basically two confident men demonstrating how human they are (probably nervous!). NY Times’ Adam Liptak (the Linda Greenhouse successor) explains that the flub during the swearing-in is… de minimus! That’s right, people! He’s still President! 😉 Who’d have the standing to challenge it, and it’s not like Ch.J. Roberts would rule on his own error. I better step off the soapbox before I sound like (gasp) a lawyer…

I did manage to watch the inauguration from work, in a boss’ office, where we all hanged out in. I’m still catching up on the coverage, since I’m a coverage addict. But, I agree with John Dickerson on Slate (since at this point, I’d have to count myself as someone who has watched a bunch of Obama speeches and can kind of tell that feeling of thrill when it’s one of his great speeches):

It was a good speech but not a soaring one. This may have been because Obama has given so many strong speeches, he’s graded on his own special curve—or because he wanted the speech to be thoroughly conventional. His call to responsibility and sacrifice was rooted in American history—from the first settlers through the colonists to America’s soldiers. This is a familiar theme in a political speech. In fact, Obama gave his own speech using these themes last June, in which he made a similar call to a new patriotism founded on sacrifice. The use of “I say to you” and “on this day” constructions added to the feeling that this was a speech of the usual order. [….]

But it goes only so far in helping him with his speech’s larger aim. His goal was to try to inspire us to give something up and reverse “our collective failure to make hard choices,” which he says marked the responsibility-free era that created our current economic mess.

That kind of extraordinary call could have been helped by something more than historical analogies and drive-by references to brave firefighters. It required the kind of personal speechmaking Obama was so good at during the campaign. When he is at his most powerful, Obama makes you feel the connection with his message through either storytelling or references to his personal journey. [….]

Instead of a personal story people could take home, Obama concluded his speech with the story of George Washington fighting for America’s independence. It was a perfectly fine story, suitable for treatment in oil and fit for a gilt frame, but it’s not a story that’s likely to be retold tomorrow at the office.

Though the speech was familiar, there were some poetic high points. He talked about the “risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things,” and as he spoke, his words echoed back to him from down the Mall, where they were being broadcast on giant televisions. He framed the new spirit of sacrifice we all must embrace by referring to the extraordinary selflessness of the military. This is a smart thing for a commander in chief to do, particularly one who was portrayed by his opponents as unpatriotic. And by putting out his familiar call for “a new era of responsibility,” he has ensured that the phrase will be repeated throughout his tenure. And he hopes that the policies he will promise later, on everything from health care to entitlement reform, will become a part of the larger narrative of his presidency.

He was alternatively humble and commanding. He repudiated Bush’s foreign policy. “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” Obama said. “Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.” He promised humility and restraint. But then, he tempered that new approach with a clear message to America’s enemies: “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.” As he spoke, a fighter plane circled overhead, a tiny black spot against unspecific clouds.

How long Obama’s words endure is a separate question from the enduring power of the inaugural moment. Though he never mentioned Martin Luther King Jr., Obama faced the Lincoln Memorial from where King articulated a dream that Obama is now helping to fulfill. That monument seemed brighter in the bitter cold, as did all the bleached white buildings that line the Mall. Between them jostled the millions of people who had come to hear and see him, their small American flags creating a blur of red, white, and blue among the museums and monuments.

Yes, it was more than the speech – the sight of the teeming masses or sea of people – this was America, this is America. Yes, as Obama said: choose hope over fear – this is what we voted for – not against something, but for something.

Thought it was hilarious enough that Alma Mater tracked down Obama’s college roommate for the alumni magazine (those alumni office resources…), but the Times apparently jumped on board too; well, jeez, Times, but Columbia College Today had the story first!

Four years ago: the continuation of the Bush era; I don’t remember it now, but apparently, according to the blog post, I had a pretty tepid response to that inauguration. But, time moves on, and we’ll see what’s next.

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