Despite some bitterness, inauguration was just as interesting on television
This past Tuesday, Barack Obama replaced George Bush as the holder of the highest office in the land. The inauguration, as well as the festivities preceding and following it, was a grand spectacle, complete with almost a dozen balls, performances by U2 and Bruce Springsteen, and a massive crowd of between one to two million people to top it off.
Needless to say, the ceremony was electrifying, and just watching the masses overflowing the streets of Washington DC on TV sent shivers down my spine. I noticed that there were many black people in attendance, and it occurred to me that many of them had made pilgrimages from every corner of the nation to see this great dream finally realized.
Here were millions of Americans of every sort coming together to observe -- and celebrate -- the inauguration of a minority as the President of the United States. Because of the racial gap that this year's presidential inauguration bridged, I think we all must admit that it is a milestone in American history -- regardless of our political views.
As wonderful a politically ground-breaking, historically significant, emotionally stirring and inspiring as the presidential inauguration was, I'm glad I didn't attend it personally. Watching it on television suited me fine, thank you very much. Just fine.
Accuse me of being resentful if you will that I, unlike some certain classmates of mine, wasn't selected to witness history in the making, and maybe I was bitter about it for a little while.
But now that I read about all the realities of the inauguration -- crowds to the max, sub-freezing temperatures, incessant noise that would give even the most unflinching man the twitches, and lines of people leading to nowhere in particular and which, from the angle I saw, seemed to stretch well beyond the horizon -- I feel better about having stayed home.
After all, does that sound like fun to you? I imagined myself standing in that mass of people -- at least six or seven thousand rows from the action (because I am not a VIP) -- craning my neck in a futile attempt to catch a glimpse of the man himself. Meanwhile, a determined band of East-coasters would make a desperate charge for the front lines, trampling all in their path, including me.
Severely bruised, shivering in the howling wind, and generally not feeling the spirit, I would make my way up from the filthy ground and watch the president take his oath on a screen, which I could just as easily have done at home.
Even worse, I could have been among the 3,000 or more people holding the now-infamous "purple tickets" to the inauguration who were denied entrance altogether and kept waiting in a tunnel below the National Mall.
Or, if I had been among the "lucky" holders of tickets to the Inaugural Youth Ball, it is possible that I would have been kept waiting for hours (allegedly because of "space problems") with that distinct "all dressed up and nowhere to go" feeling. Sound bitter yet?
In reality, inaugurations have not been all candy and nuts for the person for whom all this hysteria is for -- the newly sworn president himself. Look at William Harrison, who, feeling the need to exhibit his manliness, spoke in the cold rain for nearly two hours without a hat or gloves and then died a month later from pneumonia.
Or how about Andrew Jackson's party at the White House for 20,000 that turned into a drunken riot? In 1973, Richard Nixon specifically requested that the trees lining Pennsylvania Avenue (the presidential parade route) be sprayed with a chemical designed to repel pigeons by giving them itchy feet.
Instead, the birds consumed the deadly chemical and during the parade, scores of dead and dying birds littered the parade routes.
When viewed in the context of past inaugurations, then, President Obama pulled this one off with relatively few problems and for that we can be grateful. True, there were some crowd control problems and space issues, but overall, the process went smoothly.
Those who braved the crowds, the cold and were willing to take on the effort and expense will have a story to pass down in their family lore for generations to come.
Nathan Kitzmann is a sophomore at Detroit Lakes High School.