Inaugural Atmosphere Speaks Louder Than Words

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By Margaret Carlson and Jim Kelly

This week Jim Kelly and Margaret Carlson are corresponding about the inauguration. Kelly is the former editor of Time magazine (and of Carlson) and is now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.

Jim: So, Margaret, do you feel better now that the president has delivered his address? Inaugural speeches are funny things. Rarely is that speech among the most memorable a president delivers; only Lincoln, FDR and JFK seemed to have pulled it off. For me, the best speech the president has given in the last few weeks was in Newtown, Connecticut, after the massacre there, not what he said today.

Margaret: You're quite right, but what could measure up to Newtown, which came with sentiment so deep it was beyond words. The president is not a river of tears like House Speaker John Boehner. When the words at the memorial caught in his throat, he said everything.

Announcing policy is never poetic, and the president used his inaugural speech not to reach the heights of rhetoric but to announce that we need Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and that we should stop arguing and get on with making sure a child born into the bleakest poverty has the same chance in life as his own daughters.

Jim: Hmmm. I wish I could say what I heard was surprising, or eloquent, for that matter. Nothing he said even approached one of his best lines from four years ago, calling for “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

Margaret: Again with the gloominess. Today was more jovial, a cross between a state fair, the Fourth of July and a wedding -- the lunch in the Capitol with its head table and folks who barely know one another having to break bread together. It had everything but the groom dramatically kissing the bride. It even had the uncle going on too long. Did Senator Charles Schumer, the chairman of the inauguration committee, think it was his inauguration? When it's all added up, I bet he spoke longer than the president.

It takes a day like today to realize how little you get to see the president and his family, even if you cover the White House. Once the Obamas reached the parade reviewing stand, they were totally people. Recently the president talked about how fast his daughters were growing up, Malia not even wanting to play cards with him anymore. But how many 14-year-olds will dance with mom? When a particularly infectious band marched by, the whole family broke into some moves. Throughout, the president was furiously chewing what I presume was Nicorette.

I hope he has a smoke when he needs it, for tomorrow after the last trumpet has played and the final spin has been taken around the dance floor at the Commander in Chief's Ball, the president will go back to doing business with a Congress that hungers for a cliff to go over to show how right they are and how wrong the president is. In the most recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, Obama gets his best marks for his good temperament -- being easygoing and likable (61 percent), being compassionate (53 percent), and so on. He's going to need it all.

To answer your question, Jim, seeing these qualities on display, I do feel better. And what a sight it was to see Joe Biden make his first campaign trip, careening from side to side down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Forgive me for going on so long, but I'm here in Washington, which unlike your New York stops for a parade, and it's been a wonderful day.

Jim: Fair enough, Margaret. See you in Iowa before you know it!

-0- Jan/22/2013 00:28 GMT