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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Why I’m Singing the Inauguration Blues

Like Paul Ryan and Henry Marsh, I had a bad day on the mall.

President Barack Obama’s second inauguration definitely had its high points: his uncharacteristically liberal speech, weather that broke 30 degrees, and a tour-de-force from inaugural poet Richard Blanco.

This was my first barely-up-close-and-not-so-personal interaction with a president who, both times around, has stood for the causes that matter most to me, including gay marriage, equality for women in the workplace, and a more liberal healthcare policy that includes contraception as a basic benefit. 

Having cast my first-ever vote in a presidential election, I was excited to witness my candidate begin his second term. But for me and many others, the day was a bit of a let down.

Take Virginia State Senator Henry Marsh. The Democrat and longtime civil rights activist traveled to Washington for the ceremony. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, his Republican colleagues took advantage of the daylong de facto majority his absence afforded them and scrambled to pass some Grand Old Legislation. 

Normally the chamber is split equally between the two major political parties, but Marsh’s absence tipped the balance for a handful of hours. That was just long enough for the passage of a gerrymanderingredistricting measure. If approved, the new district lines will pave the way for a Republican majority in Virginia’s senate in 2015.

Paul Ryan didn’t have a good day either. The guy whose biceps were supposed to carry Mitt Romney to the White House was greeted with resounding boos during the inaugural festivities. In addition to the audible woe brought on by Ryan’s close-up on the jumbotron, Obama dropped a Romney-Ryan reference in his address. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security “strengthen us” and “do not make us a nation of takers,” he declared. “They free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

Take that, Ryan.

And then there are the befuddled Beyoncé fans who remain, days later, desperate to find out whether their beloved Bey resorted to a prerecorded rendition of the national anthem. And why. A source from the Marine Corps band revealed that Beyoncé chickened out last minute, but none other than our diva and her sound technicians can be truly certain. What is certain is that this flurry of rumors about a potentially lip-synched performance is casting a shadow upon her stardom. C’mon BK, we thought you were invincible.

As for me: I’m a wide-eyed intern, almost 3,000 miles from my home in Berkeley, California. I was eager to be part of an event that many a peddled badge, banner, and button promised would “make history.”

Yet I too fall into the category of Inauguration Day’s most despondent. A card-carrying member of the anti-abortion club shimmied up a tall tree, evaded the stunted police ladder that couldn’t compete with his altitude, and remained there for the duration of the ceremony. His four-hour tantrum blocked out everyone from Sonia Sotomayor to James Taylor.

I can’t tell you if I thought Obama’s speech was more poignant than last time, or what it was like to hear the words of the first gay inaugural poet, because all I could hear was, “Obama kills babies! Stop the American holocaust! What about the babies?! Stop the bloodshed!” But what better time to exercise his First Amendment rights?

Dear tree-dweller: Not only did I find your free speech vile and offensive, but I’ve already made a donation to Planned Parenthood in your honor.

So, what did I learn? Beware of antsy Republicans in your state Senate, watch your mouth on the campaign trail because you might be embarrassed as millions witness your opponent’s speech, if you’re Beyoncé you’re just too famous to fake it, and, of course, keep a spare 50-foot ladder with you at all times.

Alana Baum is an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.