Paul  Kengor

The benediction at the 2000 inauguration was done by Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church, an African-American congregation in Houston that Bush addressed as governor. Caldwell, who described himself as politically independent but a “spiritual supporter” of Bush, urged forgiveness: “Almighty God, the supply and supplier of peace, prudent policy, and non-partisanship, we bless your holy and righteous name. Thank you, O God, for blessing us with forgiveness.”

Yet, while unity and forgiveness, and compassion and civility, were themes for President Bush that January day in 2000, not everyone seemed in the mood—or quite so willing.

Near the inaugural grandstand, angrily enduring the spattering cold rain, anti-Bush activists floated black balloons and hoisted placards with phrases like “Dubious George,” “Hail to the Thief,” and “Bushwhacked by the Supremes.” One of the dissenters, Shelly Levine of Washington, DC, braved the weather to instruct a reporter: “Let Bush see that more than half the people here don’t believe in him.”

The new president got in his new car and began heading to the White House along the inaugural parade route. As the first car in his presidential motorcade moved down Constitution Avenue, it was greeted by a flame engulfing an American flag. The woman who ignited the fire was whisked away by Capitol police. Just then, an enraged demonstrator dove from a light pole into the crowd below.

A few blocks away, near 14th and K streets, protesters blocked the route down Pennsylvania Avenue. Jed Dodd, a union organizer from Philadelphia, complained of the new president: “I don’t even think he won Florida. I came down here to show my outrage.”

Similar demonstrations took place all over the country, from New York to San Francisco, from Chicago to Seattle. Closer to my home, a group of 100 in Pittsburgh paused for a moment of silence “for the death of democracy” at the moment Bush placed his hand on the Bible. He was dubbed “King George” and “President Death.” “The presidency is in the process of being stolen,” explained one organizer, Jeanne K. Clark, president of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women.

That was the reaction to the inauguration of George W. Bush in January 2000. The response was very different for Barack Obama in January 2008.

George W. Bush’s foes should ponder the graciousness and civility before them at the inaugural grandstand on Tuesday—from both the president they elected and the one they despised.