Get a load of those Lenox vases presented to the president and the vice president and their wives with a tight smile by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). What a strange and old-fashioned act of kabuki, as the Obamas and Bidens got up and made a show of admiring the craftsmanship. What on Earth are they supposed to do with those? (Next on “Storage Wars: Delaware” . . .)
Amid the vases and Beyonce dramatically ditching her earpiece as she reached the wicked part of our national anthem, and the quickly-tweeted screen grabs of Michelle Obama throwing shade in the direction House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) during lunch (don’t forget the screen grabs of Cantor making what appeared to be a “what the . . .?” sneer during poet Richard Blanco’s essay-like poem), it was time once again to ask the question that never goes away:
Are you better off than you were four years ago?
I can answer that with an emphatic yes, if only because the inauguration is a much better experience on TV than it was in all those years I spent freezing my tail off as a Style reporter.
Remember the acrimonious street spats in the W. years, with alterna-hippies screaming four-letter words at heavily-armed National Guardsmen and women in fur coasts? Ugh, I do. Remember the post-apocalyptic vibe of the Interstate 395 tunnel in 2009? Yep, been there, did that. Fought my way through the zombies to a reserved seat that was so close to the Capitol that I had to dodge trumpet spit and look straight up the whole time — and only saw a sliver of the brim of Aretha Franklin’s hat far above; had to look behind me to gawk at Beyonce and Jay-Z. I was always in the middle of everything, which meant I also missed everything.
All this time I should have been on the couch. Here, channel surfing from CBS to Fox News to ABC, C-Span and the rest, the inauguration makes a whole lot more sense as a pure, American ritual. You notice more of what you’re supposed to notice instead of hallucinating an empty Port-a-Let just ahead.
On TV, the day-long closing of the church-state divide is remarkable — and troubling, one supposes, to those who feel suffocated by religiosity: There are the prayers in Jesus's name, the close-up of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, the Biden family’s Hogwartsesque Bible. That’s who we are. NBC anchor Brian Williams asked viewers early in the day to park their children in front of the TV and make them see: Look, kids — the grownups can get along. They can sing together toward the sky and try to give one another goosebumps of goodwill. They give one another vases. It’s a Whoville moment. “It’s about time they saw Americans behaving well,” Williams said.