In with the new, out with the old. In with the Democrats, out with the Republicans. In with Obamaphoria, out with the relentless Bushbash. The pomp passes, the circumstance lingers on. We sat together under a tent that stretched from coast to coast, from satellite to satellite and around the globe, giving everyone who bestirred himself a front-row seat for the greatest show on earth. Inaugural 2009 filled the airwaves with guarded optimism and unbounded enthusiasm, rhetoric taking flight on the fragile wings of an attempted economic recovery and war on two fronts (at least).
The new president spoke with solemnity, reveling in the examples of the nation's heroes, asking us to rise with him above our human flaws, to share his vision for hard work, responsibility and an end to partisan bickering. The dream of the founders must live on in the land of liberty.
He reminded us that in a country where only 50 years ago his father wouldn't have been served in many whites-only restaurants he now dines on duck and pheasant as the guest of honor in a grand hall of the Capitol. It was quite a show, drawing on inspiration rather than interpretation from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Elizabeth Alexander recited the poem she wrote for the inaugural, giving poetic images of the ordinary people in the crowd. We caught touching verbal glimpses of a woman and her son waiting for the bus, of a farmer checking the sky for hints of rain, of a teacher telling her children: "Take out your pencils. Begin."
She evoked images of the ordinary men and women who make our republic possible and strong, who lay the railroad tracks, build the bridges, pick the cotton and the lettuce, who sit at kitchen tables figuring out how best to "make do" when the doing grows ever more difficult. The poet's specifics are often lost in the lofty phrases of politicians: "We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider."
As I considered and reconsidered all those smooth and spiny inaugural words and watched the crowds spread out on the Mall with their earnest, sometimes ecstatic faces, I recalled the day in 1964 when I sat with thousands of other Americans, black and white, listening to Martin Luther King Jr. tell us that "I have a dream."