Fussy rituals, ubiquitous kitsch, Aretha Franklin doing her thing, Rick Warren doing his thing, the weather (cold enough to be challenging, not inclement enough to be painful), but above all the crowds: Deduct what you will for partisan fervor, racial pride, and media tub-thumping, the inauguration of Barack Obama was still an impressive piece of popular theater, less for the spectacle that was put on than for the performance the audience gave by showing up.
One small but essential part was played by the outgoing Bushes. Departing presidents do not always play so well with others: Both Adamses, John and John Quincy, were so outraged by providence’s rebuke to them (and to the nation that had betrayed them by voting for someone else) that they did not even attend the inaugurations of their successors, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson respectively. The Bushes were a class act. George W. Bush was also palpably relieved to be handing off to someone else.