It was another door-buster inauguration. Not quite 2008, but still a pretty sensational showing.
Watching thousands and thousands of people streaming on foot from miles away to stand in the bitter cold and watch power peacefully not transfer hands is inspiring, no matter your politics.
The throngs were joyful and generous with waves and smiles. They arose early and came by car and bus to the old RFK Stadium. From there, they walked the miles to the Mall in front of the Capitol to watch their president be sworn in.
For so many making the pilgrimage, it was not about politics. It was not about Democrats vs. Republicans or liberals vs. conservatives.
It was simply a moment in history to be very proud and to patriotically wave the little American flags they carried with them. Old people who never thought they would see the day walked alongside young children who will never understand just how impossible it all once seemed.
Watching the unending procession, it was impossible for those who love this country and are mindful of the arc of history not to swallow their petty partisanship and political arguments. No time for nitpicking about how judging people based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin is a two-way street.
It was simply a welcomed and unifying respite from all the nasty acrimony and thuggery and divisive politics of the past year.
And then he spoke.
Following in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, President Obama could have delivered a great speech that unified a country far more torn than we are today. He could have written a speech that would be etched in history. He could have said something that healed.
Instead, he gave us a low, divisive, political bleeding of the spleen that sounded pretty — if you were not listening to the actual words.
He could not get one paragraph in without bringing up race. How is that living the dream?
He paused to pay homage to the Declaration of Independence, only to immediately offer some edits so that the outdated document might better conform to the “realities of our time.”
Thomas Jefferson and our Founders were bright enough, but they were no Barack Obama.
Then he tossed in some more of the class warfare that served him so well during the campaign. “The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob.”
Take that, Mitt Romney and you tea party freaks!
From the unifying talk of class warfare, Mr. Obama then lunged into some happy talk about slavery. But, thankfully, he has arrived and so now we are ready to “move forward together.”
Oh, if only Lincoln had been half as great a man as this!
The president went on to invoke the unspeakable tragedy of 20 elementary-school children slaughtered in their classroom. He once again marshaled the dead children for his political gain and suggested his new gun-control legislation is some kind of modern civil rights movement.
He urged “collective action,” whatever the hell that means.
Without naming Republicans or conservatives who are concerned about all the wild spending going on, Mr. Obama accused them of wanting to choose between caring for old people or helping children. He said they wanted to kick disabled children to the curb.
Finally, as he wrapped up his deflating speech, he seemed to make some effort at trying to unify people.
“We cannot mistake,” he said, “absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”
Perhaps if Mr. Obama — in his trademark humility — had not just offered his edits to one of the greatest and most enduring documents ever written by man, we might have sensed the slightest bit of humility here. That maybe he wasn’t just pointing his small, petty finger at one side.
And then there was the thrilling, wow finish with Beyonce’s singing of the national anthem — which turned out to have been faked. Which, really, was the perfect ending to that speech.
• Charles Hurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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