Awkward dinner parties are the absolute worst, especially when everybody hears about them. United States President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, while well attended and impeccably planned, had all the hallmarks of the most awkward of dinner parties.
First of all, there’s the people who intentionally don’t show up as some sort of misguided snub. Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, failed to attend the inauguration in favor of a reception honoring – whom else – themselves, making them the first losing candidate to skive off the inauguration since Michael Dukakis in 1989. At least they made it to DC, though: a Romney aide previously stated that the Romneys’ planned to stay in California, hopefully to avoid watching the inauguration broadcast. In comparison, former presidential candidate John McCain attended this year’s event, and even tweeted his congratulations to the President and his family.
Even worse, there are the people invited out of sheer courtesy and then show up as a matter of decorum; consequently, spending the whole evening looking totally miserable. Both Paul Ryan and John Boehner were captured looking utterly uncomfortable at the inaugural ceremony. Ryan, claiming it was his “obligation” to attend the event, was enthusiastically booed as he left the Capitol building on his way to the platform. Boehner, looking alarmingly orange at the inauguration luncheon, sported an attitude that made the typically gracious First Lady Michelle Obama roll her eyes right out of her head in disapproval.
And then there is the guest that shows up in a haze of glamour, pulling all the attention off of the host and leaving everyone feeling totally inadequate. Beyoncé Knowles, the 16-time-Grammy Award Winning superstar (and personal friend of the Obamas), sang the National Anthem towards the closing of the ceremony. Looking radiant in a black, floor-length Emilio Pucci gown, Beyoncé rivaled the First Lady (wearing an ensemble by celebrated avant garde menswear designer Thom Browne) for best dressed on the inaugural platform. Even a lip-synching controversy couldn’t rain on her parade, as Beyoncé’s performance was impeccably sung and passionately delivered.
President Obama, however, couldn’t quite obscure the unsteady ground on which his grand, sweeping inaugural proclamations stood with his trademark well-spoken sincerity. President Obama, promising his second term would preserve the “enduring strength of [the United States] Constitution” and Americans “equality before the law”, used sweeping rhetoric to address broad issues such as immigration, gay rights, and climate change. While his pledges certainly seem sincere, his vague diction carries a seed of uncertainty about the means with which he intends to “harness new ideas and technology,” “revamp [the] tax code,” “empower [American] citizens,” “reduce the size of [the] deficit,” and “respond to the threat of climate change.” In the role of the faltering host, President Obama also stumbled, once again, over the words of his inaugural oath, though not as badly as he did in 2008. Despite the weaknesses of his speech and his minor oath flub, President Obama seemed calm and confident, like any experienced host should.
Truly, though, a dinner party’s success is best measured by society’s reaction to it. Newspapers around the world praised President Obama’s lofty goals, focusing on his promise to act, his support of immigrants and the gay community, and the end of “a decade of war”. Where domestic critics saw vague promises and over-reaching goals, perhaps the world saw an America ready to focus less on her foreign interests and more on the welfare of her own people.
Throwing a successful dinner party is a genuine challenge, especially when the one you threw last week was a triumph. President Obama’s first inauguration, in 2009, was a record-breaking spectacle. About 1.8 million people crowded onto the National Mall to see the inauguration of America’s first black president on a cloudy day boasting temperatures almost 10 degrees below freezing. After such an extraordinary display, how could any inauguration stand out? President Obama is no longer the immensely popular messiah of political promise that he was prior to his first term. After a difficult first term and a hard-won election, America is skeptical. But President Obama, whether he has lived up to the hype of his 2008 campaign or not, is still pressing for progress. He may have delivered grand promises, but from what we’ve seen so far, he actually hopes to fulfill them. President Obama has a vision for the United States, which he gracefully shared with the nation on his inauguration.