My fingertips had disappeared, taken hostage by the bitter air and biting wind. As I desperately willed my small hand-warming packets to work, I stood among hundreds of thousands of people in that miserable climate and I felt foolish.
Families with young children, elderly couples and cliques of friends had laid claim to small patches of grass, probably in the early hours of the morning, to secure a decent spot in front of the Lincoln Memorial just to catch a distant view of the opening ceremonies. This crowd of diverse people (age, race, social status, you name it) had only two things in common: they were bitterly cold and were determined to be a part of history despite it. No one complained, no one fought, some even slept. They sat together in what Texans would probably consider uncomfortable and inappropriate proximity, in a huddled mass that stretched from the street at the base of the Lincoln Memorial to halfway down the frozen reflecting pool.
Cynics criticized Obama for being all flare and style but no substance. They criticized him for being inexperienced, young, and unqualified. But the smiling and energetic expressions of the people today, bearing against the wind, even those wrapped up by scarves so that only their eyes were visible, are not proof that experience and substance don’t matter to Americans, but rather that Americans are looking for something else far more rare than 30 years in office or a long track record. Whatever that something is, whether it is hope, optimism or unity, they clearly see that in Obama.
Stephen Hess, former adviser to Presidents Carter and Ford, predicted that Obama’s “honeymoon” would last longer than most previous presidents’ – and I think the mass optimism I saw today supports such a claim. The public is far more than simply enamored with Obama, and unless Obama makes a fatal gaffe or policy decision, Americans will give him the patience he needs to meet our expectations.
The New York Times documented the masses at the Lincoln Memorial here.