more inaugural thoughts, in no particular order

Probably my oddest thought of the morning, brought on by the (for me) early hour and the kind of research I’ve done these past few years: I find it interesting that while there were about five padded wooden seats for the key participants of the ceremony, everybody else up there was on plastic folding chairs of a type you might find anywhere. It’s a marked contrast with the physical splendor once considered de rigeur for, say, coronations. There’s no sense that the rest of the First Family are now too special for plastic folding chairs, and no particular glitz for the President himself.

In general, I know there was a lot of pomp and celebration leading up to and following the event, but fundamentally speaking, the inauguration itself is remarkably simple (in its performance as well as its furniture). As I said to kniedzw, the oath felt almost like an anticlimax: the handover of power had slipped by a couple of minutes previously, when the clock struck noon. The quartet finished playing, Obama stood up, and a couple of sentences later it’s done. As rituals go, that’s not much.

Rick Warren: I’m still not happy with that. But I am happy with Joseph Lowery (a civil rights activist whose take on gay marriage apparently boils down to “what in God’s name are you doing wasting your time on the private behavior of loving adults when there are starving children who need your help?”), and also with Gene Robinson, a gay bishop whose invocation on Sunday struck me as very poignant:

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president. …

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah. …

That’s a radical sort of prayer — by which I mean it makes me think, not of Christianity, but of Christ, and the pretty radical message he preached, which has been sanded down and made more comfortable over the centuries. Anyway, yes: Warren is something to be angry and disappointed about. But he shouldn’t be allowed to eclipse all the other clerical choices; their voices deserve to be heard, too.

Can anybody tell me what happened to Cheney? I caught some comment about an accident, that’s put him temporarily in a wheelchair.

And finally, the speech. If I were given it to critique, I could find things I would have done a little differently, but overall it was beautiful in both form and content. I love the rhetorical devices that elevate Obama’s words to a kind of poetry, and I love the fact that the hope he preaches isn’t an empty thing of “let’s cross our fingers and hope things get better,” but a call to arms, to roll up our sleeves and make it reality. He managed to criticize past action while maintaining a positive tone, which is a pretty deft trick, and one that I think will serve him well.

The only dark note: I breathed a sigh of relief once it was over, that everything went off safely. I’m going to spend the next four (or eight) years perpetually afraid for that man’s life, and the lives of those around him — sad, but also true. Pray to any divine power you think might be listening, and also to the good men and women of the Secret Service, that this historic change doesn’t end in tragedy.

0 Responses to “more inaugural thoughts, in no particular order”

  1. querldox

    Supposedly Cheney injured his back while helping movers at his new house.

  2. kathleenfoucart

    Great post- I definitely agree. Though I hadn’t thought about the furniture aspect before!

    Oh, and according to CNN, Cheney hurt his back moving boxes in his new home in VA, and doctors said he should spend a few days in a wheelchair to recover.

  3. zunger

    I find the anticlimacticity (is that a word?) of the oath to be heartening, in a way. It emphasizes subtlely that the office derives from the law, not from the ceremony or from the man. As of 12 noon, Obama simply was the president; the rest is a formal ceremony, but isn’t necessary to the thing itself. I hadn’t (consciously) noticed the choice of chairs, but you’re right — it conveys the same message.

    That said, I’m very fond of that oath, and of the general oath which Vice President Biden took just before. They make me want to undertake public service.

    And I had the same dark fear that you did. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night, and didn’t calm down all the way until after he had left the podium. Just too much risk, and too fresh a memory of losing a leader to a bullet. (Rabin in ’95. I was in Boulder when I heard, driving down Broadway just past NIST, on my way home from doing research at the library.) It made me think a bit about the mathematics of it — being President is actually a fairly dangerous job. Four presidents have been assassinated out of the past 43; there have been a total of 17 serious assassination attempts, in 219 years. That adds up to a 7.8% chance per year of attempt, and a 1.8% chance per year of being killed. For comparison, only 0.02% of sworn police officers were killed in the line of duty in 2005 in the US. So looking at statistics isn’t a horribly reassuring thing. But it does mean that our presidents lead from the front.

    (Source data: , ,

    • Marie Brennan

      You’re right; the anti-climactiliciousness (hey, if we’re inventing words, let’s go for the fun suffixes) de-mysticizes the process. Coronation is, in a sense, a magical ceremony; so is taking an oath. But no form of magic creates the President of the United States: it’s put on the schedule, twelve p.m. Eastern Standard Time, switch presidents, and when the clock ticks over, the authority shifts.

      I suspect a great many people share that dark fear. I hadn’t thought about the stats of it, but they’re more than a little frightening.

  4. ninja_turbo

    I breathed a sigh of relief once it was over, that everything went off safely. I’m going to spend the next four (or eight) years perpetually afraid for that man’s life.

    I was thinking that on-and-off throughout the whole ceremony. He’s already become a symbol above and beyond who he is and what he says, and anytime that happens, that person becomes a target.

  5. kendokamel

    Cheney was apparently trying to move some boxes of his stuff and hurt himself…

  6. sartorias

    Well said. Well said indeed.

    (And a minor note, there is an extra u in de rigueur)

    • Marie Brennan

      I have taken at least a handful of classes in seven languages, but French is not one of them. Everything I know about French, I learned from South African ballet teachers. 🙂

      • sartorias


        I once had a student who had been taking ballet since she was a tot write a story about a dancer. I couldn’t make out some of the dialogue, until I finally twigged that graunjetay and attie tood and saw tay Sue Sue were combinations written phonetically!

  7. malsperanza

    The beginning of Lowery’s prayer was a quote from James Weldon Johnson’s hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was at one time considered the national anthem of black Americans:

    It’s a beautiful poem.

  8. mmegaera

    May Obama’s Secret Service men and women be the best ever put into those positions, and then some. And then some more.

  9. d_c_m

    Can anybody tell me what happened to Cheney? I caught some comment about an accident, that’s put him temporarily in a wheelchair.
    He’s being called home by his lord and master Satan.

    No, really.


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