Made it safely back from Richmond late Monday night — we took back country roads to avoid the I-95 and any potential bottlenecks of DC-bound traffic, but the roundabout route meant it took us a bit longer to reach home. So the dog had to spend an extra night in the doggy hotel, which I’m sure she didn’t mind a bit, actually.
We decided to avoid the crowds and the cold and stay home and watch the inauguration on television. I left the house only briefly, at 7:30 a.m., to go pick up the aforementioned dog at the kennel, and while the roads were dead, the electronic signboards over the I-270 were flashing notices that the Metro was already full and parking was gone.
As it turns out, it didn’t get as messy in the District as we worried it might. It was perhaps more packed than it has ever been, but crowds were orderly and — thank god — no one was hurt or died from exposure, as local authorities were fearing. Good show, everyone.
I’ll confess to getting choked up, as I always do, while watching the smooth transition of executive authority — the true and thrilling miracle of a republican government. Two men — one president, one not — enter the Capitol together and emerge forty minutes later with the other man as president, while the former president returns to life as a private citizen. And you can thank George Washington for that particular precedent.
As for Obama’s speech . . . I’ve heard some grumbling that it didn’t rise to a level of soaring rhetoric some were expecting — that there were no “Ask not what your country can do for you…” moments. I agree that it wasn’t full of the Sound Bites many might have been waiting for; but Tuesday wasn’t really the day for that sort of speech. This was his Working Speech — one of these You And I Need To Talk kind of speeches. It was more frank and sophisticated than it was beautiful — more T.S. Eliot than Robert Frost.
But it worked. And there were still moments that I think will come crawling out and etch themselves in granite in coming years. “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” is a declaration worthy of Roosevelt or Reagan or Lincoln.
My favorite line, however, is one that got a bit lost in the wash, but I liked for its punchy language and defiant optimism: “…because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass.”
Any time you can work the words “bitter swill” into a presidential speech, you’ve got yourself a winner.