Story By Ken Krayeske • 9:45 AM EST
When President Obama went to sleep late Tuesday night, January 20, 2009, I bet it bugged him that he goofed the oath of office. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. blundered his part, too. Obama likely comforted himself by thinking that he is merely human, and prone to mistakes.
At first, when my frozen ears heard it echo from the loudspeakers across the mall in Washington, D.C., I thought "No, they couldn't have." I asked some of the millions of people surrounding me – did Roberts and Obama just goof up the oath of office?
No one else seemed to catch it. Maybe that's evidence that you can fool most of the people. When I finally arrived home at 2 a.m. Wednesday, January 21, I scanned online, and indeed, other journos caught it. Maybe that's evidence as to why we need journalists – they are trained, paid observers.
The mishap on the oath of office, combined with the fact that Obama needed to have been sworn in by noon according to law, but didn't take to oath until shortly after noon worried me for a moment that some on the right would attack his presidency for that.
Yet the literal flag waving and the cheer that erupted from the millions on the mall after Roberts said "Congratulations, Mr. President" made me weep tears of joy. The nightmare of the last eight years is over.
The crowd froze their patooties off to secure his position as leader, and insure the triumph of the ballot over the bullet, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein noted in her inaugural introductions.
Four years ago, on a similarly cold January day in DC, I determined that come hell or highwater, I wasn't missing the 2009 inaugural, whether it was a Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, Independent or Barking Spider who would take the oath of office.
Tuesday's inaugural reminded me on some levels of the three previous inaugurals I have attended – Clinton's in 1993, and George W. Bush's in 2001 and 2005. Yet Oabam’s carried more than all three of those combined, and I'm not just talking crowd size.
At Clinton's inaugural, I was 21, and while I knew what the transition of power meant, in retrospect, I focused more on the cultural kitsch value of presidential souvenirs instead of the context and contours of power.
Clinton addressed the challenges we faced, and the resolve we needed to overcome a broken economy. He hearkened to our past, and through loudspeakers hanging in trees on the mall, Clinton pledged "an end to the era of deadlock and drift."
America was a different country then. The man from Hope, Arkansas assumed office on a warm, sunny day. I walked up to the parade route without having to pass through security checkpoints. Heck, I strolled up to the Washington Monument and touched it.
For W., I went to bear witness to the coup d'etat and the failure of the American electorate. His inauguration in 2001 marked the beginning of our country's dive off the deep end of reason.
Instead of going to the mall, I watched Al Sharpton's shadow inauguration behind the Supreme Court. Sharpton revealed my ignorance of Fannie Lou Hamer, of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner and the deleterious effects of racism on democracy.
Under cold, rainy skies, on streets across D.C., thousands carried hand-made signs of protest, complaining of the Supreme Court's encroachment on the ballot box, decrying Bush's cabinet nominees, and predicting the death of our Republic.
In 2005, it seemed like more cops in riot gear and soldiers with automatic weapons covered the ground than the wet snow that had fallen the night before. The nation's capital felt like occupied territory, and dissenters were put on notice.
The military presence inspired fear, as if my disagreement with Bush could have only one logical consequence – jail. That became a reality for me at Jodi Rell's inaugural in Connecticut in 2007. The Gestapo tactics in Washington spread across the country.
Police and soldiers in camoflauge uniforms lined the mall Tuesday, but they brandished no weapons. Soldiers wore little ribbons identifying them as "special police." They carried rucksacks and cameras, and didn't intimidate. Riot cops lined the parade route.
No doubt that the Secret Service compiled a dossier of thousands of white supremacist groups that demonstrated interest in disrupting Barack's ascension to the chairmanship of the American corporate empire, and the law enforcement contingency was ready to pounce.
Perhaps it is the onset of the soft military dictatorship. Perhaps it is Obama's recognition in his inaugural address that we "reject the false choice between our safety and our ideals." In a democracy, we must take security risks, lest we forego what it means to be free.
I hope so, because the pedestrian left that so ably protested Bush in 2001 supported Obama without making any visible demands on him Tuesday. I saw one single, solitary sign against the Rev. Rick Warren. A little jazz ensemble set on 14th and Independence, jamming with a dobro, two horns, a stand-up bass and a washboard, sang the old black spiritual "Study war no more."
The hardcore left uttered its protest. One friend who saw Marxist labor unionists agreed with their structural critiques of Obama as a friendly face on a deadly machine, but disputed their premise of total destruction of democratic capitalism.
Earlier in the morning in McPherson Square, on 15th and K Streets, Code Pink, the Washington, D.C. Catholic Worker House and Amnesty International, among others, joined forces to recognize the hunger strikes of more than 100 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.
A circle of dozen people in orange jumpsuits and black hoods sang the classic folk ballad "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize," remembering that the food those 100 prisoners would eat today would be force fed.
I skipped any more protests because I wanted to be on the mall for Obama's inaugural address. Despite his active suppression of third parties in the presidential election, I felt some legitimacy in his election victory.
I hoped Obama's inaugural address would promise the closure of Gitmo. It didn't. But later in the day, his administration suspended the kangaroo trials of Bush's military commissions. And today, the New York Times is reporting he will shut down Gitmo.
The first rule of political observation is to follow what the politician does and not what he says. But what he said Tuesday bears weight because it sets the tone for his presidency. He sounded Clinton's calls to history, American fortitude, and our determination to secure liberty for future generations.
His well-written speech inspired me. As I listened, I studied the pebbles and dirt of the walkway on the mall, rather than look at his face on the jumbotrons. His image was three or four seconds ahead of the sound, which travels at 750 feet per second. I was several thousand feet away from the Capital. But he spoke directly to me. He is unmatched as an orator.
Obama's adult suggestion to put aside childish things made me want to mature more. His call for us to work hard without reward could be seen as propaganda instead of a social arrangement like duty and responsibility. But rights have responsibilities, and to enjoy life on this planet, we have some cleaning up to do.
And I agreed with Obama until he started talking about defeating our enemies, destroying those who slaughter innocents and making no apologies for the American way of life. The militarism and rank hypocrisy of the first two phrases has been deconstructed by greater minds than me.
That final phrase almost quotes George H.W. Bush word for word. A friend suggested that in conjunction with Obama's mention of non-believers in his address, he is telling the world that we will not be sorry for tolerating multiple points of view regarding the divine, and our "uncertain destiny."
As I shuffled shoulder to shoulder with the squadrons of Obama devotees yesterday, I affirmed my conviction that America must apologize for some of its misdeeds on Earth. A few lone Communist protesters handed out simple stickers that dismantled Obama's defiant, grandiose patriotism: "Stop thinking like an American and start thinking like a human."