Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's big suit moment

Though a freezing chill was in the air, a crowd of over a million people had gathered in front of the United States capitol. An electric current of anticipation seemed to bind them all, and warm them, as they waited for Barack Obama to emerge and take the oath of office as the 44th President of our great nation.

Preceding him was a line of former presidents, each emerging one-by-one, in order. First came Jimmy Carter, the 39th president, looking utterly ancient, amazing the crowd that he was still alive. A gasp rose, and then wild applause, his value to our nation enhanced by time. He smiled and took his seat. Next came George H. W. Bush, the 41st president, as he hobbled, walking with the help of a cane. Less of an applause. Then Bill Clinton, the 42nd president, emerged with wife Hillary on his arm. The crowd burst into wild applause, and the Clintons paused for a moment before taking their seats. Finally, George W. Bush came out, the current, failed president - the one Obama would be mercifully replacing. A jeer rose into the air.

After this the capitol doors were closed, and we waited for what seemed like an eternity - for The One to cross over the threshold. The anticipation was broken slightly as future first lady Michelle came out, in a stunning pale green dress, designed by Isabel Toledo. To say she was Chic, stunning, or lovely would hardly do this new Jackie O any justice! But her moment was quickly brushed aside by history.

All eyes were riveted on that historic platform, where the oath of office is administered by the Chief Justice, against the backdrop of the majestic capitol, and in front of the people of the country, as prescribed by that most perfect of documents, the Constitution. The moment seemed to hang in the air for an eternity and then... Barack Obama emerged... wearing a giant over sized gray suit, tailored by Chicago's own Hartmarx. It was at least six or seven times too large! His shoulders were perfectly square, bolstered by invisible giant shoulder pads, his head appeared in between them as but a tiny dot, ears peaking out to the sides.

The crowd, for a moment, was utterly stunned, as Obama stood at the threshold of the doorway, between the Capitol building and history, as if to say, "Look at my giant suit!"

The chill suddenly seemed to return to the air. Old ladies clutched at their coat collars. Somewhere a big dog barked.

"Oh no. No, no, no, no!" a woman next to me cried out. "Something is wrong here."

"He looks like David Byrne," someone muttered.

Then, the 44th president descended down the steps. Underneath the huge suit was that same confident stride. Obama, even in what can only be described as a laughably large, shabby looking suit, remained unruffled. He wore no smile, no smirk-- this was no joke--and the suit seemed to grow larger in the moment. As he descended down the steps, the crowd, which in an instant had recoiled in horror, returned to him stronger than ever before, recognizing the suit not as audacious, but powerful. It reinforced everything they wanted to believe about their new leader. The suit was a strong statement from an incredibly self confident individual.

Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, known for being particularly unflappable, hadn't caught on to the moment, and was taken aback, as Obama formed before him, towering. Roberts stumbled over the beginning of the sacred oath:

" solemnly swear that I will execute the office of...comically big suit..."

Obama paused for a moment. Roberts collected and corrected himself. The oath was completed, and at the words "Congratulations, Mr. President," the crowd found themselves, every man woman and child, safely in Obama's pocket. A million voices rose, as one, into the air in a tumultuous cheer. Such a thunderous sound has not been heard in our nation's capitol since the city was shelled and set aflame by British soldiers in 1814, or perhaps, after the Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1992. Large cannons were fired off, a massive 21 gun salute, as a band played Hail to the Chief. But all was drowned out by the sound of that crowd, a euphonious noise I will never forget!

Obama's and his huge suit suddenly seemed not so completely inappropriate, but perfect. He squared himself to the thronging crowd, now all but surging forward. We were straining against one another to get closer to him. Under those immense shoulders, massive epaulets stretching north and south, Obama raised both hands into the air. But we had already started an unbroken chant of: "Obama! Obama! Obama!" How long this went on is hard to say, but people simply would not let the man speak. Instead, we wanted to savor this moment in history and shower praise on their new chief executive.

Finally, hoarse, spent and exhausted, the crowd noise subsided. Obama shuffled his note cards for a second and what came out of his mouth next will never be forgotten: "My fellow citizens...I stand before you today... in a very large suit!"

And with that, he smiled! We, in response, born again, bust into cheer! We yelled, cried, and threw ourselves forward as one body. It sounds ridiculous, I know. Such a scene can barely be described. Obama then made no attempt to stop the crowd and simply began to laugh along with everyone. It echoed over the loudspeakers, from the capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and beyond.

A braying, cathartic, "Ahaha! AHAHAHAH! HA!!!!" which carried on for at least a solid minute as we whistled and laughed with him.

"Just look how happy he is," the woman next to me remarked. Her face, almost angelic with joy: "I've waited my whole life to see a moment like this."

I nodded in agreement, he certainly did seem to be enjoying himself.

"It's a large suit!" he repeated, and we laughed again, completely caught up. It was as if we had never laughed at anything in our lives. Or, at least, for the last eight years.

"Oh yeah, and before I lose myself completely in the moment, George. W. Bush, you're fired! Your helicopter is waiting to take you, and your tiny suit, back to Texas. Now get out!"

That famous 44th inauguration will live long in all of our memories. It will be, of course, up to historians to judge its importance next to Lincoln or Kennedy. But one thing is undeniable: this Obama has his finger on the pulse of this nation. He knew better than we did; that we all just needed a damn good laugh. He can do no wrong.

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