Not your father’s inauguration

Inaugurations are extraordinary events. They are as much for the people as for the new president, which is as it should be. We the people want to be involved, and not just because we are desperate for entertainment in the dead of winter.

When you stop to think about it, most of us will go through life without ever being inaugurated for anything, let alone president of the United States.

The average person will be birthed, inspected, injected, baptized, circumcised (not available to all customers), inducted, possibly indicted, romanced, rejected, engaged, married, graduated, selected, hired, fired, deluded, outsourced, downsized, medicated, retired and even installed if one is an officer of an Elks or Moose lodge.

But mostly not inaugurated.

(As for me, I have always wanted to be installed. While it sounds like what happens to a kitchen appliance, that at least would be a sign someone considers me useful.) Not only is inauguration reserved for select company, but also it is something that life really doesn’t prepare anyone for. So it was especially interesting to watch the novice inaugural candidate, Barack Obama, go through the metaphorical sheep dip yesterday to become our new president.

I thought he handled it with an easy grace. He was serenely self-confident. It was as if inauguration were a regular event in his life and not what it really resembles: A ceremonial root canal performed without anesthetic in a dentist’s office where the heat has failed and the whole waiting room is watching to cheer.

But as much as his obvious eloquence, Obama has the gift of natural dignity. This is what separates him from most of us. I don’t know about you, but I could not be installed as Exalted Moose without knocking the microphone over with my nose.

The worst that happened Tuesday was a little fumble between the new president and Chief Justice John Roberts over the wording of the presidential oath. Obviously, we shall have to go back to the tape but I think Obama may have pledged to take the chief justice as his lawful wedded wife, in which case they will have to move the White House to Massachusetts. Michelle may have something to say about it.

At least he didn’t use that huge Bible that Joe Biden placed his hand upon during his swearing-in as vice president. I would be afraid to swear anything on that Bible. Clearly, it grew that large because it contains many extra commandments. Frankly, most of us are hard put keeping the 10 regular ones.

In Biden’s case, we can only hope that "Thou shalt not talk the leg off a piano" is one of the extra commandments.

Talking about vice presidents, we saw Dick Cheney make his farewell to the nation while sitting in a wheelchair. He deserves our sympathy. Apparently he was doing his own packing and hurt his back while picking up his pitchforks, racks and thumbscrews. Heck, those items can be heavy.

As for his erstwhile boss, the 43rd president who shall remain nameless because the country has suffered enough, he was gracious at the end so I will make no further potshots. Anyway, he is now officially out of season.

What a scene the day presented! To viewers all across America and indeed the world, it looked like a sea of waving humanity stretching from the Capitol to at least the Washington Monument.

At the sight of those brave patriots gathered out there in the cold, it was impossible not to think great thoughts about America. This is a land where anybody can grow up to be president — ask Barack Obama. For that matter, this is a land where anybody can grow up to be a millionaire — for this, I am reasonably certain you could ask the guy with the Port-a-Potty concession.

I don’t know how anyone can make a speech to such a vast assembly. You can’t tell a joke because if it bombs, millions of people mutter mirthlessly.

This is why the average person like myself is not suitable for inauguration. It takes confidence, stamina and a better class of thermal underwear to be inaugurated.

Speaking as one of many that was only birthed, inspected, injected, rejected and not even installed, I think we the people picked the right one among us to be inaugurated. This was a happy day in America.

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)