It’s official: Barack H. Obama now our president here in the United States.

I watched the inauguration today on TV (I attend Republican inaugurations in person). Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Rick Warren’s invocation was painfully laborious.
  • I wonder if this is the first time that a Mormon has participated in the inauguration (in this case, the Junior Senator from Utah, Robert Bennett).
  • John Williams’ piece “Air and Simple Gifts” was quite nice and pleasant. The Shaker theme “Simple Gifts” has made just about any composition sound refreshingly American and sweepingly populist ever since Aaron Copland officially appropriated it into the broader American musical idiom by writing 5 variations on it for “Appalachian Spring.”
  • As a matter of trivia. Itzhak Perlman was born in Tel Aviv, Yo Yo Ma was born in Paris. Gabriela Montero was born in Venezuela. To the best of my knowledge, they all reside in the United States.
  • Dick Cheney has got to be hating the fact that he’s stuck in a wheel chair.
  • Aretha Franklin’s version of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was the worst I’ve ever heard.
  • Obama’s missteps in the presidential oath will make the news, and he’s likely kicking himself. I thought it made him more human and more likable. And from a purely procedural point of view it just doesn’t matter.
  • Obama’s inaugural address was good and well delivered. As is customary and proper, it was a ceremonial speech heavy on ideals. He spoke of America’s greatness, of it’s unmatched history of building and to helping others, of the durability of our Republic in the face of opposition, of the goodness of our people. Perhaps it was absolutely breath taking. I wouldn’t know, because I’m a poor judge of such matters; Obama’s rhetorical powers have never inspired or awed me.
  • Elizabeth Alexander’s poetry reading did not suit my tastes, and her poetry, as poetry, was not good. Her reading was bland, and no reasonable listener could be expected to differentiate her “poetry” from run-of-the-mill, sparsely-worded, repetitive English.
  • Joseph Lowery’s Benediction rocked. I love prayers like this, powerful prayers that joyously express personal passions and beliefs. This should have occupied the poetry-portion of the program.
  • The National Anthem at the end just sounded odd. The women in the choir sang in operatic voice but the men sang in popular voice.
  • I just loved hearing “Stars and Stripes Forever” blaring at the end. It’s the National March of the United States of America, and rightly so.

From a purely procedural point of view, this inauguration couldn’t have been more effective. Obama was the President Elect going in, and left the President. Given the results of the election, what more could one ask for?

From a ceremonial point of view, Obama’s inauguration was pretty standard fare, which means that it worked. The truth is that peaceful transfers of power, which are so rare throughout history and even across our current globe, are an ordinary part of American life. The point of an inauguration is that, as miraculous as they actually are, such transfers are downright perfunctory from our privileged American viewpoint. That’s one of the things I love most about America.

Many Americans do seem to be unprecedentedly optimistic about this presidency. People I like and respect who are otherwise quite intelligent have told me that they believe that Obama’s presidency will change everything and introduce a whole new order. Perhaps I’m unduly cynical. Or perhaps they just don’t understand the first thing about how the Federal government actually works. History will be the judge.

Whatever our disagreements on principle and policy, I hope that critics of this administration are not consumed by the unprecedented, hateful hysteria that has surrounded our last president.