jim bourg / bloomberg news
Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Obama inauguration speech
Rarely has so much seriousness in American politics been greeted with so much joy.
President Barack Obama’s inauguration here on Tuesday was a time of great celebration. His supporters expected a lofty inaugural speech fitting of the improbable campaign that swept through Nevada and the nation to give the nation’s first black president this most stunning spot in history.
Instead, as Henderson mom Rosemary Flores noticed, Obama’s address was serious, focused, even restrained. He spoke of the “new era of responsibility before the nation.” He held Americans accountable for a “collective failure to make hard choices.”
Flores had been taking notes, but she stopped and just listened.
She loved it.
Around her, others apparently did, too.
“It was incredible to hear the silence,” she said.
You could hear the quiet, too, all the way up the National Mall to a reporter’s seat a half-dozen rows below the president.
The heady soundtrack of the morning was suddenly gone. No more chants of “O-bam-a!” coming from the masses on the grass. No million mittens clapping.
Just quiet. People were listening.
Obama avoided the route of conspicuous celebration. Instead, he chose to ask the country to invest with him in the tough job ahead. “There is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task,” Obama said.
Obama has been tamping down expectations that he will be able to fix all problems overnight and his speech can certainly be seen through this lens: Obama as politician lowering the bar so he can maneuver an agenda without blame for its shortcomings.
Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign told reporters afterward he was hoping they wouldn’t ask him about the speech, because he didn’t want to say anything negative. But truth is, he said, he was hoping for something more “Lincoln-esque.”
“I would certainly not give him an A+,” Ensign said, explaining the speech had neither the content nor soaring delivery for which Obama is known. “There was not that energy level.”
A different view could be heard from those standing hundreds of yards away on the National Mall or on the joyful parade route.
As Obama’s motorcade pulled out from the Capitol complex onto Constitution Avenue, a roar went up from people lining the street and hanging from tree limbs and street poles.
“You see him?” said one. “Look at him!” cried another.
Onlookers lining the second-floor balcony of a Senate office building were singing, “He’s got the whole world, in his hands.”
Even when the motorcade moved out of sight (street closures sent pedestrians scurrying up side streets to keep pace), it was always clear where Obama was: The roar would erupt all over again all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Britt Bryant, who had traveled from Portland with her husband, Josh, to see the new president be sworn in, appreciated Obama’s serious address of the issues — of national security, civil rights and the environment.
“He reassured us,” she said of the speech. “I thought it was appropriate.”
The couple had hoped to be on the Mall with all the others, only to be shut out by the morning crowds. Instead, they ducked into the National Portrait Gallery where an impromptu viewing took place among the presidential portraits. Staff had tuned a small television to the broadcast.
“We were among Lincoln and Roosevelt,” Bryant said. “No one’s complaining.”
It was an attitude Obama has brought to the White House, and to politics. No-drama-Obama is not just his way of doing business. It has become a cultural style.
Carmel Cameron of Las Vegas drove for two and half days with her husband, Dennis, to watch the event she thought would only come after she was “dead and gone.”
She knows the difficulty the country faces, especially with Southern Nevada’s faltering economy. She trains tellers and managers at Wells Fargo bank and sees the mortgage lending crisis daily.
She and her husband notice the way Obama says over and over that ordinary Americans must lead from within.
“He will help us make a difference,” she said. “Even though we’re in hard times, I still feel happy.”