It’s almost a surreal experience to watch Obama’s inauguration from my apartment in France. Perhaps no more surreal than that guy in row 3,654 in D.C., but surreal nonetheless. With all this fanfare, pomp and circumstance, I am simultaneously filled with emotion that yes, we did, and with a feeling of oh my gawwwwd. Is all this really necessary?
The enormous crowds, the 24-hour coverage, the hand-held flags constantly waving – journalists are calling this “Obama-stock.” Even Dustin Hoffman got a special invite to the event. France is getting in on the fun, with several of the major news channels devoting this entire day to the Obama-love. I don’t remember much about Bush’s inauguration, but I doubt it had a lot in common with this one, besides that little hand-on-the-bible part.
Speaking of which, the religious aspect of the U.S. presidential inaugurations continue to shock me. I thought we had a separation of church and state in America. Why, then, is Pastor Rick Warren leading millions of people in prayer? Even Obama referred to the scripture in his address, signing off with the traditional “God Bless America.” Yes, I know, speaking about God on this day is part and parcel for the event, but I’m just saying – the international press is going to have a field day. Sarkozy would get laughed off the podium for talking about Jesus in front of the French public.
Obama’s inauguration was a fine example of the fact that when America does anything, it does it big. Masses of Americans flew, drove and bussed it to Washington to witness history, with a turnout estimated at more than one million. Once the festivities got rolling, everything was done on a Hollywood scale: The Diva of Soul Aretha Franklin singing “My Country Tis of Thee,” an orchestral piece by musical sensations Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman, a luscious poem by Elizabeth Alexander, a feisty and humerous benediction by Rev. Joseph E. Lowery of Atlanta, and more. There was even a parade following the luncheon for the president and his 200 invited guests, which followed the hour-long inauguration.
And don’t forget about the news coverage leading up to and following the event, which is bound to keep me up into the night. I’m already glued to CNN to see whether Soledad O’Brien will beat out Wolf Blizter for air-time (Didn’t you want to know that Obama’s penmanship was “excellent?”).
I think the only person who remembered why we were here today was President Obama. His gleaming white smile came and went briefly but was otherwised replaced by a serious look and tone to show the world that he was ready to get down to business. As he said: “Getting down to the work of re-making America.” He appealed to the international community, the Muslim world and our “friends and foes,” while still putting up a hard fight against terrorism. “We can no longer regard the suffering from outside our borders with indifference,” he stated.
Obama’s greatest appeal was to the American people themselves. He asked us to turn to our neighbors in need to offer help, or to nurture a child, for example. He reiterated that this presidency is not about him, but about us. And if we are going to follow Obama on this promise, then we’ve got to walk with him and do our part. As he said, “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world…”
As millions of tiny flags waved in the air, held up by millions of happy hands, history was made, opening the way for Obama to make his mark as president. In the words of Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, this is a moment “when brown can stick around.”