Right now you may be asking yourself: How am I going to celebrate Barack Obama’s inauguration?
You may, of course, have something else on your mind entirely. Like what the chances are that the next time you get on a plane, geese could fly into both engines. Or what the heck geese are doing in New York in the middle of winter when their relatives who worked hard and played by the rules had all gone south months ago.
Or you may just be wondering how that rescue in the Hudson River would have gone if it had been led off by the Department of Homeland Security rather than New York Waterway’s director of ferry operations.
I can’t help you, people. Today I am on inauguration duty.
While there is some debate about the best inaugural address in history, it’s pretty clear that the worst was the one delivered by William Henry Harrison, who went thwacking through a tangled thicket of classical allusions for an hour and 45 minutes. (Harrison’s editor, Daniel Webster, claimed it could have been worse, and that he had killed off “seventeen Roman proconsuls, as dead as smelts.”) The weather was terrible; Harrison came down with a cold, then pneumonia and was dead within a month.
Given current beaten-down expectations, our normal approach to Tuesday’s address would be to wander around muttering “well as long as it’s better than William Henry Harrison’s...” But Barack Obama is a celebrated speaker, and our hopes are unusually high. So where are you going to be when it all happens? The options are many, including:
1. Go to Washington with the rest of the world.
For the nonelite, seeing the inauguration in Washington involves standing on the Mall, shivering and staring at a JumboTron in the company of many, many, many brand-new new acquaintances. Not everyone thinks this is the perfect way to experience history. Obama himself has been delicately hinting that we all might want to consider staying home, mentioning “long lines, a tough time getting around and most of all a lot of walking on what could be a very cold winter day.”
Still, if you go, then you can always say you did. “Actually having been there does give you some street cred, so to speak,” said Jeremy Brooke Straughn, a sociologist at Purdue University, who has done research on generational memory. His own experiences go back to Jimmy Carter, whose inauguration he attended when he was 10. “All I can remember is it was extremely far away and I was very cold,” he said. This is not the kind of story that is going to leave them spellbound at your next dinner party.
But I totally sympathize. The first inauguration I went to was Bill Clinton’s in 1993 and the only thing I can remember is watching Barney the purple dinosaur vamp down Pennsylvania Avenue during the parade.
2. Join other Obama supporters for an inauguration party.
To find the nearest one, you can check my.barackobama.com. Or just close your eyes, click your heels and say “President Barack Obama” four times. This will trigger chips implanted in the heads of former campaign volunteers and someone will call you soon with an invitation to a Change Is Coming house meeting and a special offer on an Inaugural Seal fleece jacket.
3. “Total Recall.”
Watch the inauguration on television and hope that as time passes, you’ll come to believe that you were actually there. Memory experts say that this sort of thing happens all the time, and the number of Americans who think they were at Woodstock, or watched the Red Sox win the World Series or marched on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. is far, far greater than the number of actual attendees.
“I almost feel like I was there for the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, given how many times I’ve seen it on TV,” said John Mueller of Ohio State University. “And the number of people who saw that plane floating in the Hudson is probably already a lot higher than is possible.”
Virtual attendance: a great way to experience history without leaving the comfort of your own home. (By the way, I work in an office near the Hudson River and am already beginning to remember watching the rescue even though our view was completely blocked by several big buildings. And there may have been a moment after the inauguration in 1993 when Barney and I went clubbing.)
All this is good news for people who did not vote for Obama but now yearn to have a part in the inaugural events. If you go to Washington, you will be welcomed by happy Obamites wearing name tags and fleece jackets. Even if you don’t, you may gradually begin to remember that when you went to the polls, you pulled the Democratic lever. And if the new president does well and manages to resurrect the economy, by 2011 you will clearly recall doing door-to-door canvassing last September in a Yes We Can T-shirt.