“I Barack Hussein Obama do faithfully swear … do swear faithfully …” It was Chief Justice John Roberts who fluffed the line as he fed it to him, but no-one cared. For the tens, hundreds of thousands crammed into the mall, stretching back from the Capitol, to the Monument and spread out along Pennsylvania Avenue, this was the moment. With a word, with an oath, the world changed.
Years of anticipation, hope, fear, despair, frustration, tension … and then the two months of transition, when the victory hung in the air, real but not yet accomplished, and the nagging thought was that it might not be permitted. Then in a moment, it was there.
Three quarters of the way back along the mall we were watching it on the jumbotron TV screens with a second or so delay, so you could hear the cheering roll towards you, see the arms in the air, the blizzard of hand-held flags. It came all the way through the crowd and it kept going for some time. The moment tore the shout from you, made it impossible not to add your voice.
It was not simply that George W. Bush was no longer President — although I watched the seconds tick over on my mobile phone, as the oath concluded, to feel the very moment that the man had ceased to be commander-in-chief (Dick Cheney, playing his part, attending in a wheelchair, determined to look like Blofeld to the very end). But nor was it simply that an African-American, a man of deep intelligence and a breadth of experience and understanding beyond most presidential candidates, had ascended to the office.
It was that both things were happening at once, that one of the country’s worst Presidents was being replaced by someone who could turn out to be one of its best. Something more than a mere process of succession was going on.
The Presidential oath had been preceded by a chamber version of “simple gifts”, the Appalachian folk song (a generation of recorder students will know and hate it as “Lord of the dance“) with Yo Yo Ma and Itzaak Perlman, itself preceded by Aretha Franklin singing Let Freedom Ring give it a motown lilt, the blackest music and the whitest music of the country coming together.
The invocation by Rick Warren had been too saturated in godliness for the taste of many, but it was at least ecumenical enough to refer to God as abstractly as possible, to embrace the idea of action in the world, of the human rather than the heavenly.
Then, following the oath, President Obama — President Obama President Obama President Obama — gave one of the most politically pointed inauguration speeches in decades, essentially consigning the political past to the trashcan. “As the scripture says”; he said referring to the culture wars, “it is time to put away childish things”. And then referring to the work of “rebuilding America” it was over, and we were launched into a new era.
Whatever it is going to be it is going to be very interesting.
What was your take on the Obama’s Inauguration? Send your thoughts to [email protected] with “Obama” in the subject field by 11am and we’ll publish the best responses in the regular edition today.