January 21, 2013

Well, it’s over.

Inaugurations have always been a testimony to America’s ability to transition peaceably from one government to the next.

Until today.

President Barack Obama delivers the inaugural address -- without flames or locusts. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
President Barack Obama delivers the inaugural address — without flames or locusts. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

“POWER!” President Obama bellowed, the instant he stepped up to the podium. “UNLIMITED POWER! THERE IS NO RED AMERICA AND BLUE AMERICA! THERE IS ONE AMERICA: SOCIALIST AMERICA!” He paused a moment to destroy John Roberts by shooting lightning from his fingertips. “SOCIALISM!” he shouted. “NOT JUST FOR SOME PEOPLE, BUT FOR ALL PEOPLE! I HAVE JUST CLOSED THE BORDERS. RELEASE THE ROBOT JOB-DESTROYERS! RELEASE THE JOB-KILLING REGULATIONS! LET ELIZABETH WARREN RESUME HER ORIGINAL FORM AS A JOB-DEVOURING CYBORG BEHEMOTH AND SWALLOW CONGRESS WHOLE! BRING ME THE HEADS OF ALL CONSERVATIVES ON ONE LONG PIKE!”

Flames erupted over the Mall, swallowing everyone who was not carrying a commemorative Obama 2012 FORWARD tote, even Beyonce. Joe Biden’s eyes glowed red as he darted around tearing down the flags and bunting to reveal a giant monument that President Obama was erecting to himself — exactly like the Washington Monument, but much, much larger.

President Obama pulled his real birth certificate out of his pocket, revealing that he was the Anti-Christ — and, more worrisomely, had been born in the wrong part of the Panama Canal Zone. Then his birth certificate turned into a bat and flew away, as the sky turned a lovely “plum blush” shade (in the words of inaugural poet Richard Blanco) and an even lovelier “mortified pear”-colored cloud of locusts descended on Red America, seized everyone’s cattle, rights and children, and gave them to Iran.

Then someone read a poem.

Wait, I apologize, I am afraid that none of this happened. Except the poem.

This serves me right for trying to write my copy in advance.

There were two categories of people waiting on tenterhooks for Obama’s second inaugural: the people who wanted a bold, progressive statement of values, framed in swoon-inducing King-like rhetoric, and the people huddled around their radios in terror that this was The Beginning of the End of American Democracy, when Obama would shed his moderate cloak and reveal his True and Terrifying Colors.

The prayers of both could not be answered, as Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural. That of neither has been answered fully.

What did happen was that the president said we still had farther to go as a nation, announced his fervent embrace of gay rights, included Stonewall in a list of landmark civil rights moments and mentioned that programs like medicare and social security were not designed to foster dependency but to create independence.

He mentioned Stonewall! The half of the crowd that got it was very excited, and the other half thought maybe it was a reference to the Confederate general killed by friendly fire at Chancellorsville.

Some people even chanted “Obama! Obama! Obama!”

Oscar Wilde called second marriages the triumph of hope over experience. In some ways this speech was the triumph of experience over hope. This was not a vague and hope-y speech. This speech had a definite progressive stance to it. It was more strident than before. It was more pointed than before. It placed the economic and social battles that Obama is currently waging in a civil rights context. It mentioned climate change.

This was a speech that realized it was happening on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It went farther and breathed a little more rhetorical fire than usual. It was a change. But there were certainly no bats. There was no swarm of locusts. There was no lightning.

But you will no doubt hear that this was just as bad.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.