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Inaugural Style

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From Abbeville’s The White House: Its Historic Furnishings & First Families

A few of you may have noticed that Barack Obama was sworn in yesterday as the 44th president of the United States. We will leave political commentary in the capable hands of other blogs and instead provide an aesthetic appraisal of the ceremony in all its aspects.

The swearing-in: Charmingly awkward. Obama seemed to trip over his lines, with considerable help from Chief Justice John Roberts. Reminded us of a groom stumbling over the wedding vows—and in much the same way, actually pointed up the significance of the moment. Foiled the news networks’ desire for a nice, tidy sound bite.

The inaugural quartet: Shaker folk music by way of Aaron Copland by way of Hollywood composer John Williams: no mistaking which country we’re in here. The arrangement was dignified and the performance as lovely as you’d expect from all-star quartet Gabriela Montero, Anthony McGill, Itzhak Perlman, and Yo-Yo Ma.

The inaugural poem: The less said about this, the better, although we realize it’s hard to write a good occasion poem on relatively short notice for an audience of several billion.

Aretha Franklin’s hat: Triumphant.

The speech: Quite successful, especially for the genre. Contained no instantly quotable rhetorical flourishes, but was well-delivered (obviously) and skillfully argued in the passage about rejecting false dichotomies (e.g. “we ask…not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works”). The subtlest touch was actually the Biblical quotation. Describing America as “a young nation” is a staple of almost all inaugural addresses, but Obama provided a highly original twist by citing Paul’s famous words in First Corinthians: “When I became a man, I put aside childish things.” Left unsaid, but surely meant to echo in the audience’s mind, was the rest of the passage, with its summons to faith, hope, and especially, charity. The poignancy of a fairly young president telling a nation in crisis to grow up may well be the best-remembered aspect of the speech.

And finally,

Bush’s exit: More hasty than graceful.

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