Watching the Inauguration

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

11:30am (ET)I still can’t believe this.

I’m watching Bush 43 walk out of the Capitol to perform his last (thank god) official function, greeting the incoming President. He looks stunned, or perhaps sedated. Michelle is wearing something yellow with a textured pattern and a gorgeous silver collar/necklace.  She could have shown up in a bathrobe and still been magnificent.

The band is playing “Hail to the Thief” — oops, I mean Chief — as Bush & Co. appear. Now he’s got his game face on.

The program is running 10 minutes late.  I wonder how they’re going to handle the fact that the new president must be sworn in at noon.  He’s walking through the Capitol, a study in dignity and apparent calm, preceded by Nancy Pelosi.  My hearing aid batteries just quit.  Damn.  I’ll be right back.

11:45 Whoever is announcing VIPs just announced “The President Elect, Barack H. Obama.”  What’s with the H?  If he doesn’t use his full name when he’s sworn in, I’m going to be really disappointed.  Hussein is an honorable name, even if belonged to one tyrant. I’m not delighted by the absence of non-”mainstream” religions (that is, non-Christian).

11:47 Rick Warren is giving the invocation. Speaking to God, he says, “You are loving to everyone you have made.”  I wonder, does that include Jews, who he says are damned; and gays, who he won’t allow to join his church? I understand that BHO wants to be inclusive, but did he really have to choose this non-inclusive person to pray on our behalf? Does Warren really have to close with the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer? Does he even have to use a Christian-only prayer at all?

11:54 Aretha Franklin, singing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” as only she can do.

11:57 Justice Stevens is administering the oath of office to Joe Biden.  It looks like he’s going to be President for a few minutes.  Bush is so over at noon.

11:58 Fanfare.  I forget what it’s called. Come on, let’s do it.

11:59 “Air and Simple Gifts,” arranged by John Williams.  Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero, Anthony McGill. Nice diversity in this quartet. Ma is one of my favorite musicians; he looks like he’s having a wonderful time.

12:04 Diane Feinstein introduces John Roberts.

12:05 He’s doing it.  Barack Hussein Obama, 44th president of the United States. He’s excited enough to step on the chief justice’s words, and need a phrase repeated, in case you’re wondering if he’s human.

This is really happening. I wish I could see it, but there’s this flow of water getting in the way. I’ll see it later, recorded on DVD.

12:07 The Speech begins.

His flag pin (please, let it go away now) catches the sun and turns into a star.  Nice touch nobody could have planned.

12:10 A catalog of challenges that we must overcome and the promise that we will prevail.

“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

12:13 “Starting today we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking  America.”

12:14 “We will restore science to its rightful place.” An appropriate dig at the anti-intellectuals who have afflicted us long enough.

“The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.  All this we can do.  And all this we will do.”

12:16 “The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good. As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”  43 looking like he’s undergoing a proctoscopic exam, obviously unaware he’s on camera.

12:17 “Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.  They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.  Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”

12:19 “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers.  We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”

12:20 “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.  To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

12:21 Praise for the military. Brief shot of soldiers in fatigues, watching the event in a conference room Iraq. Not one of them looks at the camera or acknowledges they are on TV.  What discipline.

12:23 “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.”

12:24 Quoting George Washington in the dark winter of the Revolution: “Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

12:25 America.  In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words.  With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.  Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”

12:20 “The people will judge you on what you build, not what you destroy.”

12:30 From Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, “Praise Song for the Day”: Simple, declarative sentences, accessible even to those who don’t do poetry. “Say it plain, that many have died for this day.” “What if the mightiest word is love?” Good for her. I need to see it in print. Poems should be read and heard more than once. I’ll try to find it. Writing a poem to order is a mighty accomplishment.

12:33 Rev. Joseph Lowery’s benediction begins as a poem, too. Maybe it’s a hymn, not one I know. A wonderful prayer. We’re all included. If I find it in print, I’ll put it here. I’ll also give you a link to President Obama’s speech.

12:30 Lowery: “Let all those who embrace justice and mercy say Amen.”  The crowd surely does.

It’s done. Free at last. Great God Almighty, we’re free at last.

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One Response to “Watching the Inauguration”

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