by Jen Graves
on Wed, Jan 28, 2009 at 4:15 PM
Obama and Lincoln on January 10, 2009
Christopher Frizzelle's adventure in freezing D.C.—from the remotest stations of the orange line on metro to three rows from the president to the empty, deflated Mall days later—appears in full in this week's paper, full of reverberating observations. The observations are about time, weather, words, and the wish to believe in the afterlife but the inability to carry that wish through.
Here are a few choice moments:
Every stage of the campaign was branded a historic moment, each first more historic than the last, so by the time of the inauguration, the word no longer seemed able to describe what was happening. You got the sinking feeling that it was all being mischaracterized, not looked at directly, preemptively shuffled into the dustbin of nostalgia, prepackaged as a memory, passed over.
It was surprising that such a watershed moment, at such an ominous time, was embroidered in such whimsical fluff, details posterity won't remember: the glittering thing affixed to Aretha Franklin's forehead; Rick Warren's storybook-sweet invocation imagining "Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses... shouting in heaven" while the cutest clouds tumbled by overhead...
But Obama, lately steeped in the work of the famous gloombot Abraham Lincoln, did something darker, had a different idea of the moment.
After the speech there was the expected storm of applause, and then everyone's own inner silence, the formless moment of organizing judgment, and a lot of people ended up saying that they found it wanting. The Stranger's national-politics reporter, Eli Sanders, was disappointed. The speech "was not as great as it could have been," wasn't "soaring" enough, was "without a climax," he blogged. Most committed observers agreed. What did they want from the speech—that speech!—that they didn't get? Wasn't the speech itself the climax? Was the problem that the speech wasn't written for the immediate moment?