Monday’s inauguration of President Barack Obama’s 2nd term in office stood out on many fronts — perhaps most starkly for its diversity the way it represented many multi-ethnic facets of America’s fabric.
Here are the ten memorable aspects:
1. Diversity Celebrated & in Abundance – The president started the weekend attending Sunday service on January 20 at the historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopalian church before attending his official swearing. Shortly after, in front of his family and a small audience, Chief Justice John Roberts swore him in using the Robinson family bible. The U.S. Constitution requires a president be sworn into office no later than January 20. The next day, at the ceremonial swearing-in, audiences enjoyed performances from a variety of artists. Folk singer James Taylor’ singing America the Beautiful. Poet Richard Blanco, the first openly gay, first Hispanic and first immigrant to deliver a poem at a presidential inauguration, recited a poem that paid homage to America’s melting pot. Obama’s address spoke much about inclusion for immigrants, gay rights and pay equity for women. The inaugural parade included contributions from The Native American Tribes of North Dakota, The Tuskegee Airman, the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, the Chinese American Community Center Folk Dance Troupe among other multicultural participants. The biggest Mexican rock band, Mana, performed at the Commander-in-Chief Ball. The entire day was a cornucopia of cultures.
Onlookers appreciated it. For example, Korean-American and Virginia State delegate Mark Keam told Voice of America news that Asians feel connected with President Obama personally because of his background. “He actually lived part of his childhood in Asia, in Indonesia. He was also born in Hawaii where there is a very large Asian population. He has a half-sister who is an Asian-American, and he understands our culture and our ways,” he said.
2. Gay-rights agenda promoted – Obama became the first president to mention gay rights in an inaugural address. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” he said. “For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.” But he did more than that. He seemed to elevate gay rights to women’s suffrage and civil rights movements in his remarks as well. Obama included reference to a 1969 Greenwich Village, NY riot protesting a raid in a gay bar called Stonewall, with mention of the 1848 Seneca Falls, NY meeting of activist and suffragist women and the 1965 Selma, Alabama march and eventual violent clash with police during a protest of State Trooper’s killing of a black man.
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” Obama said.
Later during the benediction, The Reverend Luis Leon, a pastor from St. John’s church, mentioned praying for “gay” individuals in his address. It was ironic, or perhaps purposeful, considering that Leon was a last minute replacement to Pastor Louie Giglio. In recent days leading up to the Inauguration, news surfaced of a video where the Atlanta preacher was heard making anti-gay remarks. It sparked outcry and protest, leading to Giglio withdrawing himself from the program.
Also, as mentioned, openly gay poet Richard Blanco become the first gay man, first Latino and first Immigrant to read a poem during a presidential inauguration. He read a a nine-stanza poem entitled “One Today,” which paid homage to his parents and grandparents who exiled from Cuba and incorporated themes of a unifying and binding ties with a cultural and multi-ethnic America.
3. The Obamas Walk Parade Route – Again! – The President and First Lady, and Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden, repeated an old surprise from 2009 emerging from their limousines and walking portions of the parade route. Getting closer to the people and appearing more accessible was great the first round, but four years out, Obama has gotten some time to accumulate an ample amount of opponents. The US Secret Service has said he has been the most threatened president to date. No doubt the US Secret Service was on its job as security was extra intense this round. But given the recent rhetoric and vitriol surround accusations that Obama was going to take away citizens 2nd Amendment right to own a gun, the decision to walk freely in the open could be considered an even bolder decision this time. Hey, it could have been a metaphor for living free without fear of retribution if you think of it that way.
Joe Biden took the time to be Joe Biden and have his own Rock Star moment. He chatted with the audience during his walk, got up close with them, leading the Secret Service men guarding him to scurry behind him trying to keep up.
4. The Twilight Parade – The parade was to start at 2:30pm but the presidential motorcade didn’t emerge from the Congressional luncheon until after then. The president was to lead the parade but it started a half hour late. Apparently, as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor relayed, the luncheon went long because Obama went to each and every table and shook all of their hands. By 5 pm, as the parade was scheduled to have sunset, the sun had in fact set, the stadium lights flooded the parade route and the band played on. The parade did not end until after 6pm and by that time, ball attendees were lining up outside the Washington Convention Center.
5. Clarkson knocks it out the park – Former American Idol season 1 winner and recently engaged pop singer Kelly Clarkson gave a bone-chilling rendition of “My Country Tis of Thee” that was soulful and some say rivaled a bit that 1991 Whitney Houston Superbowl version of the National Anthem.
6. Beyonce’s “wow” moment – Beyonce’s version of the National Anthem was soulful and not over the top, yet not as powerful as Clarkson’s earlier. But what made Bey’s moment stand out most was her presence as she walked up to the platform. Some have said she looked nervousness. But in actuality, it looked more like she was taking in the majestic scene of the sea of a million spectators and the magnanimousness of the occasion. She looked stunning and delivered well. Sadly, the entire performance has been upstaged by allegations that she lip synced over a recorded version, thus explaining why it was reserved and she didn’t get carried away with the moment – a la Whitney Houston style [even though we now know Whitney performed over a track too]
7. Policy-Heavy Inaugural Address – In the 18 minutes President Obama took to deliver remarks to the audience of a million in person and several other millions on TV, he laid out a policy heavy framework for his administration. It came across as part inspiration message, but mainly part pre-cursor for the State of the Union address he is scheduled to give next Tuesday. It outlined a very liberal and progressive agenda calling for equality for gays, pay equity for women, gun control, and elevated legitimate status for undocumented immigrants or at least their children. There was even surprise mention of clean energy and global warming.
“Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” Obama said in his address. “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.”
Shortly after he gave it, several Republican leaders in Congress including John McCain came out against it calling it too heavy handed. Majority Leader Eric Cantor and John Boehner, however, chose to take the high road and avoided reporters’ baiting them for a response. “I think the president did a fine job certainly laying out what he would like to see happen as far as the future of the country,” the second-highest ranking Republican leader in the House told CNN.
8. Sharing the day with the MLK Day Holiday – Coincidentally, this inauguration took place on the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday. The symbolic nature of the first African American president’s reelection on a day set aside to celebrate a civil rights leader who worked for equality for African Americans was not lost on many. Obama managed to infuse King quotes, and themes from his civil rights fight in his intro to his inaugural address which also included ample uses of words from the framers of the constitution. Democrats are generally accused of not being patriotic enough and not respecting the intent of the framers sufficiently. The Presidential Inaugural Committee made sure to include in the celebration representations and contributions from multi-ethnic, and diverse participants. It was deliberate. But among those who champion a melting pot and who believe multi-culturalism goes against assimilation also frequently evoke the name of Martin Luther King. He dreamt of a color-blind society where people were judged on their merits. But alas, that world is ideal but not necessarily here yet.
9. The Progressive Agenda’s outing – From the words in remarks to the carefully selected participants representing several different core constituency groups, through this inauguration, it appeared as if the president was also signaling to all those groups whose causes he maybe couldn’t champion first round that this term will be about them. The heavy mention of immigrants, gay and women rights throughout offered overt signals that his second term may include efforts to advance causes they are most interested in. Now whether, he is able to accomplish many or them with partisan politics still very much a present factor leads to be seen. There is also speculation that the embrace of this agenda was for show and negotiation posturing and by starting to the far left, he is setting up negotiations with Congress so that he winds up in the middle where he prefers anyway.
Fashion – What Michelle Obama and First Daughters Sasha and Malia wore almost eclipsed the celebration. For weeks leading up to inauguration, fashion pages, bloggers, celebrity stylists and style shows were all offering up their predictions on what the women of the First Family would wear. For the ceremonial inauguration on Monday, Mrs. O went with a custom Thom Browne dress and navy coat which “was developed based on the style of a men’s silk tie which she accessorized with Cathy Waterman necklace. Underneath the coat, she went with a Reed Krakoff cardigan over the dress. Her bangs got lots of attention as well. Mrs. Obama opted to mix affordable pieces such as a J Crew belt, gloves and shoes with the expensive designer pieces.
The First Daughters Sasha and Malia too wore a mixture of affordable styles with designer originals. Malia, 14, wore a J. Crew ensemble including the Double-cloth Lady coat in plum. And her sister Sasha, 11, wore a Kate Spade coat and dress. The effort reflects an understanding that many Americans emulate what they wear and may covet it and in this economy, keeping at least some elements of their look accessible is a good idea. As could be expected, spectators and audiences waited on baited breath to see which among 20 designer dresses, Mrs. Obama selected. She gave her 2009 Inaugural ball gown designer Jason Wu a second chance. She wore a custom ruby red chiffon and velvet halter dress designed by Jason Wu with Jimmy Choo heels. This round Michelle Obama’s make up had more color and was more striking. The 2013 dress has gotten better reviews.