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From Kennedy to Obama
January 23, 2009 - James Whipple
On Jan. 19 1961 it snowed in Washington D.C. There is nothing unusual about it snowing but a lot of people began to wonder if the inauguration of John Kennedy would take place the next day. After it stopped snowing the snowplows and about a thousand people descended on the East Side of the capitol to help shovel snow. By the next morning all was in ready for the swearing ceremony of the 35th president of the United States. This was the first of six inaugurations that I have attended over the years. The last inaugural event I attended was for the 44th President of the United States Barack Obama.
Until 1981 all inaugurations were held on the East Portico of the United States Capitol. In 1981 the event was moved to the West Side of the Capital for the swearing in of Ronald Reagan the 40th President of the United States.
All inaugurations that I have seen have had different themes. Kennedy’s
Was a new beginning. President Nixon’s theme was about detente and the opening of China and American diplomacy. President’s Clinton’s theme was on reinvigorating the American spirit. The programs for the event are built around these themes giving each one its own distinctiveness.
Getting to and from and into the inaugural events has changed over the years. When the event was held on the East Portico of the Capital it was easier to view and though there was security it was not a stringent as the last one was for Obama. The earlier ones like Kennedy or Nixon was almost like small family events. With Reagan you could see the shift. The event became more formal and there was the “White House Protocol”. The event seemed scripted and somewhat plastic and much more formal.
One thing that each inauguration has had over the years is a sense of renewal, sense of transformation from one person to the next or from one party to the other. It is a visual reminder that our system of government works. For history buffs like myself it is like seeing the beginning of a new chapter of American history.
Finally I wanted to talk about this past inauguration. It was the first one that I could not get to see because the gate I was supposed to go through was closed due to problems with the medal detector. But it was the iron fences around the Capitol and the buildings around them that bothered me. I know that all of the security was because of the 9/11 event and the aftermath. Could we go too far in protecting us from them or us from or us? While on the one hand there was a renewed spirit of freedom and more openness, the iron fences made it look like a prison yard instead of an inauguration. There is a line from an old musical “The King and I” the king is asking about a new treaty for his country he asks “Shall they not protect us out of all we own?” Some times I feel we are getting protected out of all we own.
Even though there were a lot of problems this year the event itself was still impressive, and the estimated 2 million people were in great spirits and orderly. The inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, the first African-American to be elected to that high office Barack Obama was worth seeing in person. I am glad I went.
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