The Slaughterhouse

Frozen in Time

Pictures from a four-day exhibition.

By From the April 2009 issue

The Inauguration of Barack Obama: A Photographic Journal
By the Washington Post
(Triumph Books, 160 pages, $29.95) 

I don’t want to speak for you, but this is the book I’ve been waiting for. Lots and lots of pictures, easy-to-read captions, hardly any other text. In short, a leisurely assignment for any addled reviewer. And definitely less demanding than Obama: A Historic Journey, the New York Times’s related effort, would have been.

From all indications (I’ve only seen the ad for it), the Times’s tome is less reliant on photographs and thus pads its 240 pages with plentiful text, artwork, and documentary evidence, not to mention original essays by six of its honchos and selected columns from five of its top columnists (though apparently not Bob Herbert, which raises questions about the $40 asking price).

The Post skimps, offering only a brief foreword by Sally Quinn’s husband Ben Bradlee (mainly about JFK’s inauguration), an afterword by the paper’s current executive editor, a reprint of Obama’s inaugural speech, and, as the pièce de résistance, a game if overwritten profile by Clinton biographer, the dour David Maraniss. Its tone is established by paragraph three, where Maraniss notes that men like Laurence Tribe at Harvard and federal judge Abner Mikva in Chicago “were sufficiently impressed to proclaim that young Obama had the wherewithal to become the first black president.” It would have been nicer had they simply said he had the wherewithal to become president.

This album confirms the Obama Inauguration was a four-day affair. January 20, the day of the actual swearing-in and inaugural balls (the Post seems to regard the latter as no less momentous), isn’t covered until midway through. Our long weekend begins on January 17, in Philadelphia, whence the Obama train sets off on its whistle-stop ride to D.C., with stops along the way in Wilmington to fetch the Bidens and Baltimore to address a crowd of 40,000. There are a few photos from the Wilmington station, but none from Baltimore. A measly 40,000 at an Obama rally is evidently considered an insult.

Happier is January 18, thanks to the afternoon concert at the Lincoln Memorial. The turnout is huge (as a photo attests) and “rap fans danced to country music” (no photo available). My favorite shot features Sheryl Crow singing a Bob Marley song alongside will.i.am. It is good to meet new talent. Several photos capture people staying cozy-warm in the frigid weather, including two teen girls literally wrapped in an American flag. For full patriotic immersion, don’t miss aging communist Pete Seeger in the “celebrity cast” singing “America the Beautiful” at concert’s end.

January 19, Martin Luther King Day, is devoted to volunteer work—all very tasteful, except perhaps the photo of a casually dressed Obama’s hand squeezing his wife’s waist at one “service” stop, a metal bracelet honoring a soldier killed in Iraq (we’re told) visible on his wrist. Finally, the big day. It remains frozen in time, as if the arctic cold were merely setting the stage, much like the bleachers along Pennsylvania Avenue shown here to be ghostly empty as the inaugural parade continued into the dark late afternoon, performing for no one.

Snippets from Obama’s rhetoric offer warning signs. “We are going to need you, not just today, not just tomorrow, but this year, for the next four years, and who knows after that, because together we are going to change America,” he tells one of the inaugural balls. At the Lincoln Memorial he praises not what our country is but “what this country can be”— and he describes those in the audience as Americans who “want to help us get there.” The Post quips that the record 1.8 million who attended the swearing-in “look like ants” when photographed from atop the Washington Monument. But in the book’s beautiful two-page spread taken from atop the west Capitol, this throng looks like something else: like 1.8 million folks who’ve turned themselves in.

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About the Author
Wlady Pleszczynski is editorial director of The American Spectator and the editor of AmSpec Online.