Saturday, January 31, 2009

D.C. and the inauguration

Kat and I made arrangements to travel to D.C. for the inauguration a few months before the election. Our plan was to attend regardless of who was elected president, but we preferred Obama over McCain and his winning the election solidified our plans. We flew to D.C. on U.S. Airways Flight 44 to see the 44th president inaugurated, leaving 72-degree weather in Phoenix and arriving to 26-degree weather in D.C. We had prepared with layered clothing, but I found that my toes were still freezing in my shoes with two layers of socks, so we visited a mall near our hotel and found evidence of massive price deflation in coats and boots. I picked up a nice pair of Dupont "thinsulate" insulated boots, and Kat bought a full-length padded coat, each of which were only $20. We saw some further evidence of price deflation in goods at the Smithsonian gift shop in the National Museum of the American Indian, where T-shirt prices had been lowered from $20 last time we visited to $16 this trip. Food prices, however, seemed to be about the same, and the price of a 7-day Metro pass had climbed from $20 to $26.40 (no doubt still a subsidized price).

On Saturday, we visited the newly-reopened National Museum of American History, where there were special events going on with actors portraying figures from American history such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. We paid a visit to the American flag from Fort McHenry (the star-spangled banner), the First Ladies' dresses collection, the pop culture exhibit, "The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden," musical instruments, the Gunboat Philadelphia, and a few other exhibits. We followed this up with lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian, then checked out the new Capitol visitors' center and took a look at the setup for the inauguration. We then walked over by the Newseum, passing the Canadian Embassy and its huge banners welcoming President Obama.

The theme of pending change was everywhere--not only the expected political banners, but in commercial advertising (e.g., Metro ads from Pepsi and Ikea), religious advertising (the Seventh-Day Adventists were handing out a magazine with Obama's photograph on the front), and even by the homeless begging for "change I can believe in."

On Sunday we went to the Columbia Heights Metro station and were amazed at how much the area has changed. We visited an apartment building in the area where Kat used to live in the 1990s, finding it boarded up and for sale (last sold 10/16/2008 for $1.1M). Next was Adams-Morgan, where there was a kiosk to "Tell the President ... tell him what you think! tell him what you want!" by sticking up handwritten notes. A few examples: "TAKE A STAND 4 PALESTINE," "WE ARE HUMANS NOT MACHINES," "GAY MARRIAGE," "Make Weed Legal," "fix our schools," "NO MORE LIES PLEASE," "Respect our privacy! Stop USA spying on Americans!," and "MAKE LOVE TO ME."

We visited a friend's clothing store (Redeem, on 14th St. south of S), walked past the Church of Scientology near Dupont Circle that was in the act by offering free "touch assists" for D.C. visitors, and approached as close as we could to the White House, which was to walk on Pennsylvania Ave. near the president's inaugural parade viewing stand. From there we could hear U2 playing at the "We Are One" concert on the Mall, which we chose not to brave the crowds to see.

Monday we spent time with family in the early afternoon, and spent the rest of our afternoon paying a visit to the American Humanist Society's MLK Day open house. In the evening, we went back to Dupont Circle, where a giant inflatable George W. Bush with a giant nose labeled "GIVE BUSH THE BOOT" was available to throw shoes at.

Tuesday morning, we got up at 5:30 a.m. and got to the Silver Spring Metro Station by 6:40 a.m. The station was packed, and we squeezed into a very crowded train. We got out at Gallery Place and walked towards the Mall, where we ran into an immense crowd at 7th and E that was waiting to go through security screening to the inaugural parade seats. We hung out there for a while, where several people from were handing out nametags and pens, and then walked around the security perimeter to the west to get to the Mall. This required us to go back north to I St., and west to 19th St. (we could have gone down 18th, but 19th was less crowded). We went through no security and had no trouble getting to the Mall.

We walked east past the Washington Monument, but U.S. Army soldiers suddenly closed the road at 15th St. and so we went back and found a good spot in front of the Jumbotron just northeast of the Monument. The crowd continued to build, and the Jumbotron showed a replay of the "We are One" concert from Sunday (which would might have been annoying if we had already seen it).

At long last, the Jumbotrons switched to a live (with audio slightly delayed) feed, with a live mike somewhere in the expensive seats that seemed unintentional. We got to hear one side of multiple conversations, including Sen. Joe Lieberman telling someone, "I love your mother!" The captioning was a little behind the already-delayed audio, and occasionally bizarrely off. When Aretha Franklin sang, one caption at the end of her song said "THREAT RING."

I thought that Pastor Rick Warren's invocation was awful--it was sectarian and it was blatantly hypocritical (cf. Matthew 6:5-7), and I considered it, along with the cold, to be the low-light of the swearing-in ceremony.

George W. Bush attracted some mild booing, and we almost (but not quite) felt sorry for him. But the crowd was ecstatic at Obama's being sworn in (and at Bush's helicopter leaving).

Obama's inaugural speech seemed to mostly be fairly generic new-politician-in-office platitudes, but there were a few standout positive points for me. First, his acknowledgement that some Americans are nonbelievers and we have a stake and a voice in this country was a breath of fresh air. I cheered that line, and several people near by looked at me and smiled. His affirmation that science must be "restore[d] ... to its rightful place" was another good one, as was his statement that we cannot give up the Constitution for safety.

It is a pleasure to again have a president who can speak in complete English sentences and not make me cringe every time I hear him.

After the swearing-in ceremony was over, it took us well over an hour to leave the Mall. People were packed in trying to leave, and at one point we saw the crowd knock down a barricade on the north side of the Mall, and a second barricade just north of that, to get access to Constitution. We moved in the opposite direction, which proved to be the right move to get to a flowing stream of people moving towards the actual exit. Police showed up at the downed barricades after about ten minutes, and put them back in place.

On Wednesday, we visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic church in North America, on the grounds of Catholic University of America. It was interesting to see the different ethnic versions of Mary, Mother of Jesus in the Shrine, including Our Mother of Africa, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and Our Lady of La Vang (Vietnam). We did a little shopping for Obama swag at Union Station.

On Thursday, our last day in D.C., we visited Battleground National Cemetery on Georgia Ave., a little-known burial ground of Union soldiers killed at the battle of Fort Stevens, the only Civil War battle that occurred in D.C. We also visited Fort Stevens itself, which has a monument where President Lincoln stood on the rampart and was told to "Get down, you fool" as he was likely to be killed by attacking Confederate soldiers there. Finally, we visited the recently restored Lincoln Cottage at the Old Soldier's Home, just north of Catholic University of America, where Lincoln spent about a quarter of his presidential term, made many of his decisions, and drafted and finalized the Emancipation Proclamation.


Mark said...

>where President Lincoln stood on the rampart and was told to "Get down, you fool" before he was killed by attacking Confederate soldiers.

This is a version of history of which I was previously unaware! So you don't buy the whole John Wilkes Booth coverup story?

Theo Bromine said...

>where President Lincoln stood on the rampart and was told to "Get down, you fool" before he was killed by attacking Confederate soldiers.

I too suffered a parsing error when I read that, and wondered for a while if my Canadian grasp of US history was worse than I thought!

For another view of the inauguration, check out:

Jim Lippard said...

Mark, Theo: Wow, that was a very unfortunate ambiguous phrasing, wasn't it!

Jim Lippard said...

I've revised that sentence in order to make it more clear, if less amusing.

Ktisophilos said...

Obama spruiks forth: "A failure to act, and act now, will turn crisis into a catastrophe."

But see this clip on the exact same sort of "Politician's Logic" from the great 1980s British political TV satire Yes Minister. :)

Jim Lippard said...

"Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" are must-see shows for anyone who wants to understand how politics really works (at least in any country with temporary elected officials and a permanent civil service).

The _Yes, Minister_ book is as funny and incisive as the show, too.

Ktisophilos said...

I'm impressed whenever an American has even heard of this classic series, let alone know it so well and appreciate it :)