EDITORIAL: 'Again Carrying Forth Freedom's Great Gift'
Advance hype notwithstanding, nothing quite prepares you for the majesty, color and emotion of a presidential Inauguration.
Especially this one.
The installation of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, witnessed (if only from far away) by perhaps the largest crowd ever to gather in the nation's capital, was more than the handing of the White House keys to a new tenant. It was a celebration of the hallowed principle of peaceful transfer of power at the heart of a political system that remains the envy of the world.
If you could maintain a dry eye at the sight of tears streaming down the faces of old black people listening proudly to one of their own while flags snapped crisply in the cold winter wind -- then you must have a hard heart indeed. If you could look on without a lump in your throat as the new president escorted the old one down the broad steps of the Capitol to the helicopter waiting to whisk him into the sky and off the national stage, you just don't know sheer, historic drama when you see it.
The Tradition Lives On
Nothing is perfect, and this inauguration surely wasn't. Chief Justice John Roberts, perhaps thrown off by an over-eager Obama stepping on his initial line, flubbed a 35-word oath. Aretha Franklin's caterwauling version of "America" failed to inspire. Elizabeth Alexander's pedestrian poem fell flat. The scattered booing at the appearance of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was execrably bad form.
Even the new president's hard-edged address was sometimes uncharacteristically uncharitable toward his predecessor sitting nearby. And, though it had its good moments, it too often sounded more like a boilerplate campaign speech than a once-in-a-lifetime call to action. That's surprising, given that Obama is normally capable of drop-of-a-hat eloquence. Those expecting him to eclipse Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address left disappointed.
But all that is just fine. We're dealing with fallible human beings, doing their best to live up to a tradition begun by George Washington and carried on in an unbroken chain of "government of laws, not of men" for more than two centuries. If there were no miscues, if the whole thing came off as if staged by professional performers in some orchestrated halftime spectacle, it wouldn't be real. This was real.
Fresh Start Was Overdue
Even most of those who didn't vote for Obama have to be relieved to have this transition behind us -- as Bush himself no doubt was. The nation was more than ready for a new start and a fresh face in the Oval Office. If there was one word that permeated most descriptions of the jubilant crowd's mood on Tuesday, it was "optimistic." That's been missing too long.
The reality will start setting in today as the youthful Obama begins the presidential aging process, which experts say progresses about twice as fast as it does for other mortals. Last night was a time for enjoyment of inaugural balls, relief that no terrorist strike or other violence was allowed to ruin the day, and rejoicing that the gears and wheels of our beloved democracy are still whirring along in good working order.
And once this new president's term has run its course, may posterity say, in the words he used Tuesday, that we once again "carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."
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