I was eager to hear his speech, to see how high he'd set the bar, how he'd motivate us to band together, and whether he had...any quotable lines that could compare to those of his role model, Abraham Lincoln.
The class moved from our studio into the exercise equipment room, with its mounted televisions, and we continued on our biceps, triceps and abs with our eyes trained on the flat-screens, and our ears straining to absorb each historic word.
First notable: Obama flubbed the oath. Chief Justice Roberts later said Obama's sudden silence during his repetition was due to the judge's error in placement of the word "faithfully," but all Obama had to do was repeat what he heard, whatever that was. Instead he stopped, and with Roberts, tripped over the next sentence.
In subsequent newsclip coverage of that historic moment, only the smooth first sentence was repeated; the gaffe was gone.
Then came Obama's speech. "Insipid" would be a charitable assessment. Rambling, redundant, hokey, nondescript would also apply. I got together with four friends afterward to post-mortem the ceremony, and asked them which lines they found memorable. None came to mind.
At times, Obama seemed disrespectful to President Bush, who the camera occasionally glimpsed, grimacing. "On this day we gather because we have chosen hope [me] over fear [Bush/McCain], unity of purpose [me] over conflict and discord [Bush/McCain].
"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas [of Bush/McCain], that for far too long have strangled our politics."
Uh, thank you, Mr. President. The guy you're dissing was sitting right there, and the only thanks you gave him was for his "service" and for his "generosity and cooperation" during "this transition." Nothing about how he oversaw our nation's healing from the shock and horror of 9/11, and created mechanisms that have kept us safe ever since.
But rather than dwell on what Pres. Obama didn't say, it's much more fun to rack up the cliches he did: Right at the top we've got "rising tides of prosperity," "still waters of peace," "gathering clouds" and "raging storms."
We move from weather to forefathers who "packed up their few worldy possessions," "traveled across oceans in search of a new life," "toiled in sweatshops," and "plowed the hard earth."
And why this "long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom?" Well, to "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America [now that we're rid of Bush]." "The economy calls for action (YOO-hoo!), bold and swift--and we will act!"
WE, ie those who pay taxes, with his $800 billion stimulus package, will: create jobs, build roads, bridges, electric grids and digital lines; restore science to its rightful place (where was it?) and "wield technology's wonders" toward better, cheaper health care.
This will be my first chance to wield a wonder.
But there's more: I'll also "harness the sun and the winds and the soil"--quite a wielding feat--"to fuel our cars and run our factories."
Most ga-ga commentary has focused on the line, "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works." Well, no. If the governement is too big, for sure it doesn't work. And name me one place where government is too small? Better to ask not what your country can do for you. Much better.
What scared me was his insistance on a "watchful eye" over "the market" since "a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous" but since I can't figure out what he means there, it's probably nothing.
At least I got from his following five minutes of rambling that he's not about to please his anti-war base by abandoning strong defense. And I woke up with a smile with his jolly mixed metaphor about "rolling back the specter of a warming planet." After this winter, that specter sounds rather good to me; certainly too good to roll.
But rolling off of Pres. Obama's tongue were plenty more cheerful phrases: "the road that unfolds before us" (must be on a map?), "fallen heroes" who "are guardians of our liberty" (not in that position they're not), "We have duties to ourselves" (to eat, to sleep, to go to the bathroom) that we "sieze gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit...than giving our all to a difficult task" (whatever that may be).
He concludes by cleverly circling back to the weather: "in this winter of our hardship...let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come." And the unfolding road: "we refused to let this journey end; we did not turn back nor did we falter...we carried forth..."
...to a snore of a conclusion and then more memorable parts of the inauguration--the national poem and Rev. Lowery's benediction. I hope to post a parody of the poem for you tomorrow, but tonight it's enough to savor that we have a new president, and a speech that made me chuckle rather than quake.