It's cold out here on the edge of the prairie today - much colder than it is in Washington. But at the Emporium in Yellow Springs, Ohio, the coffee shop cum wine bar cum village meeting place dozens of my neighbors gathered to watch the inauguration and it was warm indeed. Joy, applause, cheers, tears, disbelief, relief, happiness. (The free wine Kurt provided certainly didn't hurt!)
So a few quick observations: Obama's speech was very good overall but I noticed several things in particular. First, while the campaign turned out to be largely a referendum on the economy, some of Obama's sharpest and most damning words were about the conduct of American foreign policy. This is certainly exciting - joined with Eric Holder's unequivocal rejection of torture during his confirmation hearings, and other statements coming from the new administration. At one point, in the middle of Obama's remarks about foreign policy, the camera panned to Bush, who looked even smaller, more dyspeptic and more trivial than usual.
Second, the line unuttered but hanging in the air was Kennedy's: the torch really has been passed to a new generation. As I watched Dick Cheney being wheeled off in his wheel chair (he pulled a back muscle moving boxes??!! Really??!!) I can begin to believe that we may finally have left 1968 behind us.
Third, I was personally touched to be included in the litany of American diversity - Obama talked about us a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus. And non-believers. Whoohooo! A hearty thanks from all us secular humanists and happy heathens who grow weary of the relentless religiousity of this country.
And speaking of that, I had my fingers stuck in my ears during the Rick Warren invocation so perhaps I missed something important. What struck me, however, was how singularly unimpressive he was - dull, predictable, uninspiring. I've never been to a big-box mega-church, but apparently it doesn't take all that much talent to become the head of one.
Finally, watching all this pomp and circumstance, I couldn't help but wonder whether we were a bit precipitous back in 1776. If we don't want a monarch, exactly, we surely love a coronation. That's the function inaugurations obviously serve for us, complete with honor guards, artillery firing, and endless comment on how the important women are dressed. Compare this to the transition from one leader to another in any European country and it is clear that whatever may divide us, Americans do love a parade.