01/20/2009 10:39 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

O, Make Me Weep

POSTSCRIPT: It was a nothing speech. Clichéd, abstract, predictable--every sentence worked at and struggled with. The encomiums are coming in now, testifying to the ritual pieties of the press. But even here, among people desperate to say something nice, they're grasping. ("That he was willing to sound so somber on his day of celebration tells us many things at once," is an example, by Nancy Gibbs in Time, of the blather.) Something went wrong. (He even got the number of people who've taken the oath wrong. Sheesh.) Maybe he did actually write it himself--and in the end clutched and gave up. After all, he had the absolute attention of the world, and used only 20 minutes. Or maybe he's just lowering expectations.

P.P.S: Obama may be the 44th president, but he is the 43rd person to be president. Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms.


This is the most important day of a presidency. It's the emotional high point. You're not going to do better than this. It's the moment when you have the best chance to impress an image, a phrase, a sensation on the public.

You get an absolute pass, too: The media lays it on thick. All inaugurals are history before our eyes, the start of a new this and that, a great day in a great country. (Notably, the inaugural blah blah has spread to other countries. The Guardian offers a particularly excruciating example today: "Today a magic spell will be performed. A man who 12 weeks ago was a mere political candidate will be transformed with the incantation of a few words...into...even the embodiment, of the most powerful nation on earth." Oy.)

Every new administration knows this and tries to capitalize on it--hence the Obama administration's expenditure of $125 million.

The standard is the Kennedy inaugural. Nobody's done better since: It seemed to be a picture of a torch actually being passed. No inaugural address has been so often quoted.

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