January 21, 2009

Say amen

Filed under: BBC radio addiction,misc,Politics and history — Duchess @ 3:27 pm

The BBC helpfully reported that the timing of the swearing in was written into the Constitution.  It was due at 12 noon (GMT minus 5).  BBC coverage would start at 4.30 (GMT).

I was at my desk in the Oxford college where I am currently temporarily employed (and used to be permanently employed, before I had a midlife crisis, failed to sell my house, bought a boat anyway, quit my job, and made an aborted bid to jump ship to the US, small poodle included — but these are other stories). 

The Principal (my boss) had gone home early, without a word about the inauguration, but we all knew what she was up to: her partner is the politics don at the college.  Other people began to peel away — those with longer commutes saying they would listen on the radio, those with shorter hoping to get home before the moment when W would no longer be President and Obama would take his place.  The whole world was watching.

I clicked on the BBC home page and gathered into my office the staff still lingering on my corridor — only the archivist and the development team were left.  We saw the fashion parade of VIPs taking their places and responded appropriately: we agreed that Michelle’s dress wasn’t flattering, but possibly sensibly warm.

Next we listened to one of the longest prayers any of us had ever heard (and watched most of the crowd peeking, but not the soon-to-be-President and Leader-of-the-Free-World, who kept eyes piously shut).  I remarked that though we are a nation founded on the principles of separation of church and state, Americans are more than usually apt to trouble the Almighty with detail.

After the marathon prayer the BBC commentator said Aretha Franklin was going to sing the national anthem, which she didn’t, but I guess he can be forgiven; in the first place the tune of what she did sing (My Country ‘Tis of Thee) is his national anthem (God Save the Queen), and, in the second place, who could concentrate anyway listening to that voice and looking at that hat?

We laughed at the stumble during the swearing in, and then we all spontaneously applauded and cheered as the new President was congratulated.  The whole world was watching. 

I don’t think I was the only one in the room moved by the speech that followed.  I might have been the only one who needed kleenex.

When the poet was announced, the Brits dispersed lickity split back to their own offices, and soon even the stragglers headed home.  Most of them missed altogether the Yella / Mella and the Brown / Stickaround benediction.  Say amen.

Later my younger son and I watched the parade together.  (He was with the rest of us on the the Dress Issue: it made Michelle look chunky, though she isn’t — but he mentioned that Hillary’s, which no one cared about anymore, was even worse.  Poor Hillary.) 

Today the newspapers are filled with hope and praise.  It is interesting watching American politics from this distance.  For eight years there has been little respect for the US abroad, though I think the wish for the most powerful country in the world to do well never went away.  Yesterday Obama’s clearest message for me was that he knows we do not have to choose between our ideals and our safety.  We can still be the city on the hill.

I admit that our new President was not my first choice.  But if I hadn’t been wholly won over to him before, yesterday completed my conversion.  The television (= internet; yay internet!) kept showing the crowds — never before such crowds — gathered with their tiny flags in the January chill to watch and to celebrate.

I do not believe any other candidate could have been such a force for unity in our country and in the world.  I do not think any of the others would have been met with the simple joy at a new chapter in American history that greeted Obama’s first minutes as President. 

At least, no one else would have been applauded, as he was, by a small group of Brits, and one American, crowded around a computer screen far away, hoping for change.



  1. The benediction was my favorite part, I’m not a religious person but I almost jumped up to say Amen when he asked us to – and I was watching at work too! The opening prayer didn’t move me at all.

    I didn’t cry as much as I thought I would during the inauguration, but I got all choked up watching the first ball.

    Comment by Liz — January 21, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

  2. I was living in London when Nixon was re-elected. I remember watching the news on the BBC and feeling so ashamed of my countrymen. Turns out, I was right! By the way, I do see Cheney as the ultimate evil doer–did it come off otherwise in my post?

    Comment by ByJane — January 21, 2009 @ 7:14 pm

  3. Amen. It was a great day for the US … and I think a great day for the world. The energy, the unity … the hope Obama has ignited is like nothing I’ve ever seen. And really … it is so needed!

    Comment by Twenty Four At Heart — January 21, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

  4. I was impressed when in London last summer by how informed the British were about American politics. I suspect most Americans couldn’t even come up with the name of the British PM! Yet we’re so interconnected.

    The exchange rate for a British pound yesterday stood at $1.37, which is a staggering decline from last summer. No wonder the Brits are hoping for relief!

    Comment by msmeta — January 22, 2009 @ 10:08 am

  5. I’d love to leave a comment, Duchess…..but I think I’ll pass on this one.

    Comment by Midlife Slices — January 22, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

  6. Obama’s speech (“just the facts” without his characteristic rhetoric, delightful as it is) and the benediction were the highlights…The surprising disappointment was “the poet”…poor choice (They should have chosen someone Irish (Biden would agree!!!)…and now the real work has begun in earnest…The world will be watching…I’m glad you are too…Marylou

    Comment by marylou — January 23, 2009 @ 7:07 am

  7. I watched a lot of it, but for me the real high point of the past seven days was our new Attorney General’s appearance before the Senate; when asked by a Senator “Do you think waterboarding is torture?” he replied evenly but decidedly “Waterboarding is torture.” I felt able to exhale, to relax in the certainty I’m not being governed by thugs any more. That’s the moment I hope the whole world saw.

    You’re right about Cheney, ByJane — if there’s a secular word for Antichrist, he’s it.

    Comment by T P Perrin — January 24, 2009 @ 5:57 am

  8. Love hearing about the inauguration from the British perspective. Funny thing is that you were so far and yet could take in so much more of the actual ceremony than I did–and I was right there! Planning to finally watch the whole thing tonight thanks to Tivo. Glad to hear how you’ve come around to Obama-I think our country needs and deserves him right at this moment.

    Comment by Darryle — January 26, 2009 @ 2:34 pm

  9. Bush is Alfred E Neuman from MAD magazine ( What Me Worry? ) and Cheney is Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. It’s interesting that Dr. Evil Cheney had to injure himself at the last minute so that he had to be wheeled around in a wheel chair to get extra attention, and to garner sympathy…what a pathetic exit !!!

    Comment by Everett — January 27, 2009 @ 9:16 pm

  10. I cried. In my entire life, I have never been as engaged in an election as I am in this one. I pray that President Obama continues to focus on uniting us, getting rid of partisanship, maintaining transparency, and all the other great agendas he has proposed. Finally, I am proud to say I am an American, rather than ashamed to admit it.

    Comment by Barbara Weibel — January 31, 2009 @ 11:55 am

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