The United States, One More Time:
The crush of people in the Rude Pundit's area of the National Mall yesterday made us seem less like individuals than a single surging, gigantic organism. If someone five bodies behind you leaned forward, you leaned forward. Human heat made us warm on that almost sarcastically cold day. Yet there was virtually nothing but elation, a gathered nation ready to welcome an instantly transformative moment. Indeed, if you think about it, this was what this America was poised to become after September 11, 2001, had the former administration decided to harness the power of unity. But, then again, it was never very good with alternative forms of energy.
Everyone released purgative, cathartic boos at George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The television coverage may have muted it, but it was there. A young woman half-heartedly said, "Oh, c'mon, ya'll, that's mean," but she cracked up when the Rude Pundit said, "Sometimes a man deserves to be booed by a couple of million people." The most touchingly surprising crowd reaction was the cheer that went up for Jimmy Carter. Most everything else was as expected: the too-respectful quiet for Rick Warren, tears as Aretha Franklin sang, the nearly unbearably joyful roar when Barack Obama took the oath of office, understanding that, however badly John Roberts screwed it up, it was real. People began to drift away as poet Elizabeth Alexander read her actually quite good poem, and they snapped back to attention when Rev. Joseph Lowery called out the old 1960s chant about the races. All a way of saying, "We've finished a chapter. Let's write the next one."
On the Metro ride into town, in the crowd itself, in the opened-up Smithsonian museums where you could sit on the floors next to exhibits and get warm, and in the streets afterward, the diversity of celebrants was kind of staggering: the family wearing "Filipinos for Obama" buttons (who, fortunately, looked Filipino), the older white guy wearing a Human Rights Campaign hat and Obama buttons with the rainbow flag across them, the two guys walking on Independence Avenue with scarves that had "Palestine" on them, so much disenfranchisement now thinking they were, at least, welcome in answer to one big "Thank you."
And the black people. So very many black people. The jubilant families on the Metro, the giddy students around the Rude Pundit at the Mall, the older men who simply said to each other, "I wasn't going to miss this." The Rude Pundit's been in large audiences of black people before, at gospel churches and festivals, but he's always sensed a divide, like, for some at whatever event, he was a kind of interloper, a spy, even. But not yesterday. He's never seen such a seamless connection between black and white, watching, for instance, white suburban women chatting up and laughing loudly with middle-aged black women. When Obama spoke, it was with the idea that we all did this, that it couldn't have been done any other way, and that we very much needed each other as we turn from the jubilation to the journey.
A young black woman and her mother were walking with the tide of humanity after the Inauguration was over. The young woman was talking about how some of her friends thought she was crazy to go out into the cold when she could have easily watched it on TV. "No way," she said, "I wanted to be there for my President. I wanted to answer him when he made that call to work."
All around the Capitol, after the event, increasingly desperate button hawkers were trying to sell their "I Was There" pins. Nah, the Rude Pundit thought. He knew where he was. He knows where he is.
Tomorrow: Back to your regularly scheduled rudeness.