It was like Narnia at today’s inauguration. Half a million Obama fans gathered in Washington to shiver as their leader was sworn in for the second time. (Or the fourth, if you count the fluffed effort in 2009, which had to be repeated later, and the mandatory ceremony conducted yesterday in a nicely heated indoor room.)
Up on the raised platform, the hoary faces of former presidents exchanged smiles and handshakes. A stooge from Congress toddled out and addressed the crowd in sombre, prayerful mood. Then he changed gear and introduced cult folk legend, James Taylor, hailing him as ‘a renowned musical artist.’ This was a polite way of acknowledging that Taylor has successfully evaded the overdose scourge that culled most of his hippy contemporaries. The ageing songster has been unwise enough to go bald since his 70s heyday. And he’s dropped the Frisco groover look in favour of corporate executive chic. Hatless and hairless, he approached the microphone and produced an acoustic guitar from beneath his sombre overcoat. He plucked at the strings for minute or two while warbling about America’s glories, ‘from sea to shining sea.’ Everyone was wondering how his fingers could be warm enough to play.
Then the President appeared. The only thing that separated him from his adoring fans was a sheet of bullet-proof glass. Just in case. The crowds cheered through chattering teeth.
Conscious that some of his disciples wouldn’t be conscious for much longer if he left them out in the cold, Obama rattled through his lines. Then he moved onto the speech that everyone thought they’d come to hear. Until they heard it. At which point they realised they’d heard it before. It was a mash-up of highlights from a hundred campaign orations, held together with a kind of rhetorical stabiliser that might have been downloaded from a platitude website.
His argument was as follows: collective action is the agent, and not the enemy, of individual freedom. But he wrapped it up in weird, quasi-spiritualistic bombast – although this may well be part of the American constitution. He talked of ‘the star that guides us still’, ‘the timeless spirit once conferred on us by God,’ and, ‘the voices we lift in defence of our lasting birthright.’ At one point he urged America to, ‘answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future the blessed light of freedom.’
A few policy hints peeped through the bosky verbiage. The President wants new laws that favour immigrants, gay folks, old folks, sick folks, poor folks, ecology fans and women. There was an oblique gesture of friendliness towards Iran. ‘Security and lasting peace does not require perpetual war’, he said. To that he added, ‘engagement is a course than can more durably lift suspicion and fear’. Presumably this was aimed at Teheran, although, to be honest, he might as well have been speaking Persian.
After Obama, came Ricardo Blanco, an individual who embodies every fashionable cause liberalism has ever mustered. A gay, Hispanic migrant poet, Blanco is the child of Cuban parents who toiled in the cane fields to raise their proud son. He recited a deadly earnest poem about himself which, as it went on and on, became more earnest and more deadly. Freezing winds blasted the pious crowds as his ode turned into an epic. Eventually paramedics had to be called in to apply heated blankets to hypothermia victims.
As soon as Señor Blanco had removed about a dozen Democrats from the voting-register, he was succeeded by Beyonce. She had come to sing and she was sheathed in a figure-hugging, blizzard-repelling creation. She looked utterly sensational with her long brown hair brushed loosely over her shoulders. And as she wiggled towards the microphone, a familiar head popped up behind her. Two cold blue eyes were peering intensely at her rear. It was Bill Clinton.