This was the ninth presidential inauguration I have attended, and herewith are a few observations that you may find interesting. I have a disordered mind, and so they are in no particular order:
--The crowd. You already know that there was an enormous turnout, but without being there you can't get a sense of what it's like to see an assemblage of nearly 2 million people. Even as early as the 18th of January, trying to negotiate the streets in a vehicle was madness, and at one point, it took me half an hour to ride one block. I left the car and walked the 15 blocks to my destination.
There were so many unofficial balls and parties that most of them had to be held the night before the inauguration because every other venue had already been booked. At my hotel, I am told that 7,000 people attended balls there on the day before the inauguration, and I can attest that it took 4 hours for them to enter the place.
At the swearing-in, I was seated up front, and I turned around to take a picture of the crowd behind me and found the sight stunning: people packed like sardines as far as I could see, all the way to the Washington Monument. I later spoke to acquaintances who were also there, and they reported that the crowd spilled into side streets, places not served by speakers or TV screens. Most people were there just to be there.
--The oath. Well, that was a mess, wasn't it? My initial impression was that it was Obama's fault, but it was Chief Justice Roberts who blew it. It's hard to make a hash of it, actually, since the oath is in the Constitution, it's only a sentence and all Roberts had to do was to memorize it. Chief Justice Rehnquist left nothing to chance: he memorized it and wrote it down, just in case he choked. Furthermore, Roberts muffed the pacing of the first phrase. Instead of stopping after "...do solemnly swear," he paused briefly after the name, leaving Obama no option but to repeat the incomplete first phrase. And that was the precise time that Roberts started reciting the rest of the oath. And the chief justice inadvertently used some of the presidential oath and some of the commissioning oath. This all necessitated a private ceremony to do the whole thing over, properly, just so that nobody could say that Obama had not been properly sworn.
--The address. As usual, Obama performed well, and the speech was a good one. But there was little memorable about it, nothing that rose to the level of eloquence that marked Lincoln's second and Kennedy's. There were a few phrases that caught the imagination, but they had no intellectual persistence and faded quickly. It doesn't matter: although Obama edited it, Jon Favreau wrote the speech.
--The balls. There were ten official balls, and the president and his wife attended each, and at each he made a few remarks and then danced for about a minute with Michelle, to the great pleasure of all. I was at two: the Veterans' Ball and the Commander-in-Chief's Ball. At the latter, a huge number of troops were packed into a relatively small venue for a long wait---no sit-down dinner, no drinks, no entertainment---merely to see and be greeted by President Obama. In attendance was a large contingent of wounded warriors, many badly maimed in combat but, like most of the others I have met in and out of hospitals, filled with an indomitable and infectious spirit. They watched the President and First Lady dance and were wildly amused by the couple's down-to-earth self-consciousness.
The Veterans' Ball was a different, and somewhat sadder, story. Even though it is not an official function, every previous First Couple I can recall came to this ball. Even the Clintons, whose enmity for the military establishment is well documented, made a gracious appearance at this affair. The Obamas didn't show, and the message was that some veterans' organizations' support for John McCain motivated the inaugural committee to advise President Obama to stay away. This is pretty sophomoric stuff and demonstrates how important it is for executives to surround themselves with clear-thinking people and to be skeptical of doing things that are silly.
But overall, it was a splendid show---2 million people and, evidently, not a single arrest---and it was a palpably good time, filled with optimism and good will.
But the hoopla is over, and now comes the hard part: governance.