Still early for the First Family, who have several more inaugural balls to go, but late for a mere citizen after his quota of evening events -- capped by the pleasure of seeing a Metro car jammed at 1:00am with people in every station of life and mode of dress, from tuxedos and evening gowns to greasy night-shift overalls.
1) More on the speech itself tomorrow, but here is a point to bear in mind. Several of Barack Obama's big rhetorical performances have been recognized as hits from the minute he stepped off the stage. His 2004 Democratic convention speech is one example. His Philadelphia speech on race, which quelled the Rev. Wright controversy last spring, is another.
In many other cases, especially late in the campaign, the red-hots among his supporters thought he had "underperformed" or been "just so-so" immediately after an event, only to see the days-later and weeks-later reaction to the performance turn much more positive. The clearest example was his first debate with John McCain, where supporters thought he had missed chances to go in for the kill -- but over time it was clear that he had established his steady, gravitas-worthy persona.
I think his inaugural speech will be in this second category. Now that I have a chance to look at some blog-world commentary, I see that some is underwhelmed, as after the first debate. I think that the speech was in fact very well-pitched to this moment in history and the messages Obama wants and needs to send. That is, both artful and useful. More detail tomorrow.
2) As I may have mentioned from time to time, I view the Reagan-onward tic of closing all presidential speeches with "God bless America" as just a tic. That is, a substitute for doing what FDR, TR, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and all pre-Reagan American presidents had done: namely, find a "real" way to end a speech. Here is interesting proof that it is a tic. The prepared version of Obama's inaugural address - here, among other sources -- does not include those words at the end. But the transcription of what he actually said -- here -- confirms what we all heard, that he tacked them on at the end.
When he had time to think about the shape of the speech, Obama, as a writer and thinker, realized that he had a strong close without those cliched words. In real time, he threw them in, as any of us (including me) might throw in "you know" or "I mean" when answering a question. Let me say that again: when he had time to think about it, Obama the literary craftsman thought better of it.
3) In keeping with earlier testimony to the basic good will of the crowd -- as I witnessed it as one of the 2 million or so (my crowd here) -- the "boos" when George Bush or Dick Cheney appeared on the screen seemed almost perfunctory. People felt they had to do it, but their hearts weren't in it. To me, the most spontaneous-sounding and surprising cheers were for (a) Colin Powell, and (b) Jimmy Carter, and the most spontaneous surplus-hostility boos were for ... Joe Lieberman. Just reporting on my part of the crowd.
4) I gather that my experience with inauguration security -- easy to get in, tough to get out -- was not the same for people who, unlike me, had real tickets to the inauguration and weren't just standing among the hordes on the mall. (Eg here and here.) More on this later too.
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