by Jen Graves
on Tue, Jan 20, 2009 at 2:15 PM
Obama's inaugural luncheon was held in Statuary Hall, which is basically a ridiculously architecturally elaborate (the Pantheon blushes and faints) museum of arcane black and white statues.
Were you wondering too what all those black and white men represent? (I'm assuming they were all men because it looked that way on TV and, well, because.) It turns out that each statue represents a state. Here's a map of the statues. Washington's statue is of a man who was "massacred by Indians." Yes.
That covers the sculpture and architecture. But what about the painting that was borrowed for the occasion?
Turns out a painting at the luncheon has been a tradition since Ronald Reagan's inauguration in 1985, when he showed this. Morning in America, sure—and cheesy and religious as hell. This is a painting that tells you to sit back and do nothing; all will happen for and to you. You're nothing but a subject. Hello, 1980s!
For G.H.W., it was humility all the way (and again with the great taste—look at that godhead above the godhead!).
W2 is a dramatic, ominous sublime by Bierstadt. Bush may have meant it to signify the state of post-9/11 America, but instead it clearly symbolizes his frightening presidency.
Now here's Obama's choice: Thomas Hill's View of the Yosemite Valley from 1865, created in homage to Lincoln's setting aside of the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias as a public reserve.
There's the environmental message (look at that broken-off tree trunk on the right). There's also the fact that the distance is hazy, not in an anxious way—but in the way that what's out there is an open question. The colors are fairly muted. The light source has only an oblique presence. As far as 19th-century American landscapes go, this one is pretty low-drama (no-drama Obama).
And most of all, this is a Western landscape. (Most presidencies, with the glaring exception of Reagan, feel Eastern or Southern by contrast.) This is a portrait of pioneering without much of the swagger usually associated with it. Not only are we pioneering, we're pioneering pioneering, quietly. There's a path, sort of, leading straight ahead, downhill, and into a canyon of rocks. Here we go.
The US Airways pilot who crash-landed a passenger jet in New York after both its engines failed has revealed how he made the decision to ditch the plane in the city's Hudson river to avert a possibly "catastrophic" crash in Manhattan.
What does this recent event (Flight 1549) expose about Bush's presidency? That it is best understood, symbolized, expressed by precisely what happened on September, 11, 2001. The criminal hijacking of the planes and subsequent destruction of the concrete representations of America's economic and military strength corresponds with Bush's own hijacking of the presidency in 2000 and eventual crashing of the American economy and military. What we saw on September, 11, and what we did not know we were watching, was Bush's 8-year presidency compressed into a couple of hours.
If you're like me (that is, a sucker for pomp and ceremony), check out the US Senate's Inauguration web site, where you can see the china the new President ate from, the flower arrangements that were on the tables, and the recipes for the three-course meal that was served (plus a lot of historical information, if you're into that sort of thing). Update: Forbes.com reports approvingly on the (surprisingly affordable) wine that was served—a red, a white, and a bubbly from California, all chosen by a bipartisan Senate-House tasting committee.
Weird aside: While Obama's inaugural luncheon was self-consciously all-American and reportedly based on Abraham Lincoln's favorite dishes (seafood stew; wild game; apple cake), both of Bush's inaugural luncheons have been... um... weirdly French (lobster gratin—OK, they called it "lobster pie"—enscalloped lobster and crab, and "grenadine of beef Supreme".)
Man, there were a lot of cold people on the National Mall. The Associated Press is reporting that over one million people gathered for the O-nauguration, based on crowd density from aerial photographs. I was on the Mall for the March for Women's lives in 2004, which drew an estimated 500,000 to 1.15 million people—and that was crowded as hell. Lyndon B. Johnson drew the largest inauguration crowd on record, with 1.2 million on the Mall. But the National Park Service hasn't released crowd estimates for the Mall since 1997, when there was a hubbub over a low-balled estimate for the Million Man March. And yesterday CNN reported the park service announced it wouldn't provide a headcount for today's event, but now officials have reversed their policy and plan to release a crowd estimate later this week.
After the jump, I've included the poem, "Dedication," that Robert Frost was going to read at Kennedy's inauguration. The sun was too bright and Frost couldn't read "Dedication," so he recited "The Gift Outright" from memory. "Outright" worked much better as an inauguration poem because it wasn't intended as an inauguration poem.
Here's a choice bit from the middle of "Dedication":
The new world Christopher Columbus found. The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed And counted out. Heroic deeds were done. Elizabeth the First and England won. Now came on a new order of the ages That in the Latin of our founding sages (Is it not written on the dollar bill We carry in our purse and pocket still?) God nodded his approval of as good. So much those heroes knew and understood, I mean the great four, Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison So much they saw as consecrated seers They must have seen ahead what not appears, They would bring empires down about our ears And by the example of our Declaration Make everybody want to be a nation.
It makes Alexander's poem from today look like a Shakespearean sonnet. Thank God for Frost's poor eyes.
my president is black, in fact, he’s half white so even in a racist’s mind, he’s half right if you got a racist mind, it’s alright my president is black but his house is all white rosa parks sat so martin luther could walk martin luther walked so barack obama could run barack obama ran so all the children could fly so i’ma spread my wings, you can meet me in the sky i already got my own clothes, already got my own shoes i was hot before barack, imagine what i’m gon do hello miss america, hey, pretty lady red, white and blue flag, wave for me, baby never thought i’d say this shit: baby, i’m good you can keep your puss, i don’t want no more Bush no more war, no more iraq no more white lies, my president is black
Wait a minute; first give me a minute to bask in the glory that was the shout-out to atheists in the inaugural speech.
Apparently, you all didn't like Elizabeth Alexander's poem. I put the transcript of it after the jump—the breaks are almost assuredly not right—in case you couldn't hear it over the commercial-break-like elephant stampede to the bathroom or the bar that most people took the poem for.
Here's what I think: I think that it wasn't good, but I don't think that it was terribly bad. I thought her delivery was pretty bad, and that made it seem worse than it was. But the poem itself is a fair mirror of what we've seen of the incoming administration. It's a little sentimental, but it's not dramatic at all—Maya Angelou's sloppy-tearful poem from the first Clinton inauguration might as well have been a warning sign of the drama that was to come in the Clinton White House—and it understands the importance of uncelebrated work.
Which is exactly what the poem should have been: It looks like, once this necessary ceremony is done with the first part of the Obama* presidency is going to be all about service and getting directly to work, with few distractions. Things start off pretty well: The images of cutting and piercing, immediately followed by the image of sewing uniforms speaks to both the idea of repairing clothes—which is something that people should do more of, but don't do so often anymore—and restoring the image of our armed forces, which has become tattered.
Then there's a ragtag orchestra coming to life, perhaps a little shaky at first. Getting the bus, a farmer, a classroom beginning a test. A return to the thorns, and the idea that words, with a little thought, can be smoothed. And then the first quoted words of the poem are about exploration.
I think the line "Say it plain, that many have died for this day," is something that should be said at every inauguration. It heads up a section of the poem about building and work. The "figuring it out at kitchen tables" is an unfortunate direct lift from the election. The different credos—love thy neighbor, first do no harm, take only what you need—is something that should also be recited at each inauguration, but it comes from nowhere, and it builds into the part of the poem about love, which is exactly when it becomes a generic inaugural poem. It doesn't work at all—here is where she should have fine-tuned the music idea she created at the beginning, and tied it in to the "praise song" bit a little more.
The image of a "widening pool of light," the idea that "anything can be made"—they both are wonderful ideas that get jumbled. And then she goes back to the light, and walking forward. But instead of the music or musicians coming forward into the light, it's a song about coming forward into the light. It's too passive.
If Alexander had just stuck to the idea of Americans quietly doing their jobs, of all those workers coming together into something much bigger than the work itself—that would've been a knockout inauguration poem. It would've been something to see a poet return the ridiculously grandiose day to the people, especially the people whose jobs are so necessary that they didn't have time to stop and listen to something as inessential as, say, a poem at an inauguration. But the idea of the poem being an inaugural poem came in and messed things up. As they almost always do. B+ for effort, C for written execution, D+ for spoken delivery.
*When is my fucking spell check going to recognize "Obama?" When?
Miss this morning's inauguration? Want to relive it all? There are plenty of parties, concerts, and bars celebrating and/or replaying the day's events. Some have dinner, some have music, they all seem to have drink specials:
Hi, Rosebuddy! Celebrate the Inauguration at the Rosebud! "We'll be offering drink specials in the bar and televised highlights of the day's events, plus a special prix fixe dinner menu in the dining room for $28: Mixed greens with aged sherry vinaigrette, spiced almond brittle and figs; Seared halibut with braised cabbage, roasted fingerling potatoes and mango salsa; White chocolate-raspberry bread pudding; Glass of bubbly for an after-dinner toast." Call (206) 323-6636 to reserve a table.
The Corson Building's Inauguration Day Party "The Corson Building in Georgetown will be having an inauguration party from 6pm on for $25 with wood-fired pizza, oysters, and a cash bar." More info.
Three Imaginary Girls' Inauguration Day Celebration With live music from H Is for Hellgate, Friday Mile, Benjamin Bear, and Ed Wang. Doors open at 8 pm, $7, 21+.
Moe bar was packed to standing room only. The TVs were loud and the crowd was quiet except to cheer (or boo at Bush, Cheney, and Warren). One moment I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere: Warren's bizarre over-enunciation of the name "Sasha." Everyone at Moe had been tensely quiet during Warren's (not as bad as it could have been) speech, until that odd moment, when a wave of relieved laughter swept over the room.
Also, politics isn't really my beat, but I just wanted to chime in to say that Obama's inaugural speech hit pretty much every note I hoped to hear.
The finest moment for science, in Obama's speech, came quite a bit after his declaration, "we will restore science to its rightful place."
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.
Any leader who insists on having his or her actions tested, having acts judged as working or not, embraces the deepest and most powerful ideal of science. He or she cannot help but set us on a course to succes.
For me, no moment in the inauguration surpasses the one in which Obama's middle name, Hussein, is repeatedly said in the presence of the parting president. It was like a ghost haunting and mocking Bush. Utterly wonderful.
by Dan Savage
on Tue, Jan 20, 2009 at 9:51 AM
Loud cheers when "Departure of Pres. George W. Bush" flashes on CSPAN. Loud booing when Cheney wheeled out to limo. Loud laughter when Michelle Obama waves at Cheney rolling by. Cheering when limo door closes on Cheney. Cheering as George and Laura head toward the waiting helicopter. Booing as Bush attempts to kiss Michelle Obama on the lips. Michelle deflects kiss with last-second turn of head. Cheers. Louder cheers as Bush steps into helicopter. Still louder cheers as Obama and Michelle turn and walk away. "Close it tight," someone shouts as door pulled to helicopter pulls shut. More cheering as blades begin to turn. Faster, faster...
We have lift off. AND THE CROWD GOES WILD! Cheering, toasts. Not as loud as when Obama was sworn in, but loud enough for George to hear us from here, if he's listening, which he's not—because when did he ever listen?
It's fascinating to watch the crowd here at the Triple Door—which is applauding mostly on cue with the folks at the inauguration—go nuts at lines that leave the crowd in Washington cold. A huge applause line here: "We will restore science to its rightful place."
For those watching on C-SPAN: Is it just me, or does C-SPAN keep panning to Bush at the most sarcastic possible moments in Obama's speech? At any rate, it's cracking folks here up.
More applause lines here: "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers."
As we near the moment, as Cheney sits in a wheelchair, I'm reminded of this passage in a recent article Paul Krugman:
There is, however, one area where I feel the need to break discipline. I'm an economist, but I'm also an American citizen - and like many citizens, I spent the past eight years watching in horror as the Bush administration betrayed the nation's ideals. And I don't believe we can put those terrible years behind us unless we have a full accounting of what really happened. I know that most of the inside-the-Beltway crowd is urging you to let bygones be bygones, just as they urged Bill Clinton to let the truth about scandals from the Reagan-Bush years, in particular the Iran-Contra affair, remain hidden. But we know how that turned out: The same people who abused power in the name of national security 20 years ago returned as part of the team that, under the second George Bush, did it all over again, on a much larger scale. It was an object lesson in the truth of George Santayana's dictum: Those who refuse to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
These monsters will come back if they are not made accountable for their crimes. Something has to be done to prevent what happened this decade from happening again in the near future.
by Dan Savage
on Tue, Jan 20, 2009 at 8:44 AM
Hm. It just occurred to me that I can't remember where I was or what I was doing four years ago today. Can you? I certainly wasn't sitting in a crowd of 300 delighted, ecstatic people cheering at the sight of the man about to take the oath of office, that's for damn sure.
But I can remember how fucking depressed I was on January 20, 2005—can you?
UPDATE: It wasn't so hilarious at the time, but... uh... the TVs here at the Triple Door went black right before Rick Warren began to speak. The sound was on, but no picture. We can look back and laugh now that the TVs are working again.