I live pretty close to DC, but I didn't go into town for the Inauguration yesterday. Even though I'm very happy Obama is our President, something about braving bitter cold in the pre-dawn hours with a million other people made me want to curl up in front of my TV with a blanket and hot cup of tea instead.
One of the things I like about Obama (that he has been criticized for) is his professorness. When he speaks, he doesn't bite off clips for the news to play over and over. He doesn't play to people's knee-jerking instincts, though he does try to sway emotions. I feel like he's giving the benefit of the doubt to us, the American people. His speeches are to intelligent people, and it seems like he's willing to work a little harder to treat us like actual reasoning beings instead of basically saying, "Because I said so," and "It's good for you." His speeches aren't sentences and seconds; they're paragraphs, essays, many moments together.
I thought that could sum up the Inauguration itself (I didn't follow the parade or balls or anything, except to check out Michelle Obama's dress, of course). It was very powerful, and I enjoyed it for the most part. Aretha's performance was grand as always (perhaps not her strongest ever, but she looked great and it was very emotional), and I loved the quartet performance of Air and Simple Gifts. However, I thought Elizabeth Alexander's poetry reading was kind of a dud. From her bio, it seems like she's a decorated writer, so maybe she just psyched herself up too much.
Being fairly agnostic, state-led prayers can be a little annoying to me, but getting a non-pinko shoutout from Obama helped. Also, a great deal of the country is Christian or otherwise religious, and there are better battles to pick. That said, I thought Rick Warren's invocation fell pretty flat. I understand what Obama was trying to do. I just think it kind of sucked. Like, he was pulling it all out of his ass. Or he cut out pieces from a bunch of different sermons and speeches, put them in a hat, and picked out some. On the other hand, I really liked Rev. Joseph Lowery's Benediction. It was moving and a little humorous, and that Lowery was a civil rights activist gave kind of a nice "full circle" feel.
I thought Obama's Address was excellent. I've read some criticism that he wasn't very hopeful; some wanted more specific policy ideas; it was "good but not great."
For the first, I can understand that point. He's been pointing out for a while that the economic situation will get worse before it gets better. And I mean, who's denying that? It took almost a decade-and-a-half with World War II for the country to recover from the Great Depression. Things aren't as bad as they were when FDR took office, but these things don't just resolve themselves overnight. I like to think that when Obama is saying "hope," he's not saying, "I'm a superhero; I'm your saviour; I will fix all problems and everything will be peachykeen and you can start buying too much crap again." He's saying, "This way isn't working, and with that idea in your leader, together we can all change ourselves, the way we live and thus the world." Things can't go back to the way they were; it's unsustainable economically. We need to move forward, try to rid ourselves of the idea that everything's about more and better stuff, stop sacrificing the future for the present. And it's going to suck for a lot of people, because when Obama said, "We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense," he didn't mean it in the same way that Cheney did when he said, "The American way of life is non-negotiable."
Anyway, for the second, I really don't see how anything specific would have added to it. Obama isn't just trying to make and change laws; he wants to add fuel to the fire of ideas. Plus, he's pretty much been talking all along of what he's going to do, on his website, with Congress, and in his "fireside chats."
And the last... I don't really know what the NYT wanted. Angel choirs, the area to suddenly become a warm beach, with unicorns running around, I don't know. As I mentioned earlier, anyone who's ever heard an Obama speech knows he's not good for a soundbite. No "nothing to fear but fear itself" or "ask not what your country can do for..." Let's wait a decade or two and wait for history and quote books to decide, though, all right?
Anyway, what he does is just as important as what he says. And I'm happy what he's done so far, so we'll just have to see how this goes.