NATIONAL MALL, Washington DC—Crowds shuffled in throughout Monday morning and took their places around the National Mall for Barack Obama’s second inauguration as president of the United States. Color-coded tickets separated those who paid to be here from those who wanted to get in for free.
Lines were short. Getting into the ticketed areas was easy for those with the right stubs. Blue, green, gold, yellow, and orange ticket-holders had no problems slipping right up front for the show. But many of those in attendance trudged over to what event organizers called the “Non-Ticketed Mall” area–signifying they didn’t have to pay to be here.
Police and security units blocked off streets around Capitol Hill, forcing swaths of people wishing to see Obama take the oath of office again to walk or use the Washington, D.C., subway system–known as the “Metro.”
The air was frosty, a freezing cold that Washington, D.C. doesn’t normally endure. A biting wind exacerbated the chill. Cloudy skies prevented sun from shining through. But the weather wasn’t the only gloom in town.
“I could have just stayed home and watched this all on TV,” one woman complained into her cell phone near Breitbart News’ Kerry Picket, amid negative comments about the freezing air and lack of nearby places to eat.
Every so often along the lengthy path around the event area, a hustler peddling “Official Obama 2013 Inauguration programs” would pressure groups of people to purchase their booklets. Not many fell for it.
Obama buttons, tee shirts, and other political paraphernalia were for sale too, as were artistic photos and drawings of the first family. One vendor on C Street Southeast sold candy apples. “Get your Obama caramel apples here!” the man shouted as people walked past him from the Capitol South Metro stop right across the street from the Republican National Committee’s headquarters.
Closer to the mall, savvier peddlers pitched tents and stood up tables to push to their products. Cops told some of the tent-pitchers they needed to remove their setups because they weren’t supposed to be there without a permit. “You’ll be arrested if you don’t move this within half an hour,” a police officer told one merchandise cart owner on Seventh Street Southwest.
On a corner opposite that cart, two men laid out posters of Barack and Michelle Obama. “Can I have this dance?” read one caption on a sheet showing the president and first lady kissing with a heart design around them. Stacks of photos laid on the grass there, unsold. When this reporter moved to snap a photo of their posters on the ground, one of the men turned around and said with a bit of a desperate tone: “Are you interested in any of these? No pictures, you have to buy it.”
Compared to Obama’s 2009 inauguration, something was missing. The crowds carried an air of obligation. Those who made the trek to Washington for the day appeared to have done so because they were supposed to, not because they wanted to.
“It’s the re-inauguration of the first black president,” one man said into his cell phone while trekking around the mall, appearing to defend his decision to show up for whoever was speaking in his ear.
Excitement was lacking. Energy was non-existent. The magic that only Obama could bring to a country, like he did in 2008, was gone. Unemployment remains as high as when Obama first took office, and gas prices are even higher. The president’s approval ratings are still low.
Enthusiasm was less palpable than even MSNBC’s Ed Schultz’s "One Nation" rally on the national mall in October 2010, the last big liberal gathering in Washington. Schultz organized that event with the NAACP and several big labor unions. The people who attended wanted to be there–or at least they thought they did. Not this time. Not today.
Sure, some inauguration attendees shouted their support for the newly re-elected president. Occasionally, one would cross paths with Obama supporters donning campaign gear–hats, shirts, stickers, and buttons. Most just shuffled into the mall wearing regular clothes. The average inauguration attendee chose not to adorn himself or herself with merchandise glorifying the president.
At this event, the masses wouldn’t even defend Obama in the face of critics. On one street corner near L’Enfant Plaza, a few small groups of pro-life Christians stood on makeshift soapboxes with handheld microphones screaming about how “Obama kills babies” with his pro-choice abortion policies. Save for one young teenage boy who tried for a moment to argue with the group, nobody seemed to care. Most just shrugged. They trudged on, forward to the mall.
A broken Jumbotron set up near the Washington monument aggravated those near it. The Hill reports that one man affected by the malfunctioning technology grumbled, “This is terrible.”
One couple standing with thousands of other non-ticketed individuals on the mall’s north lawn in front of that Jumbotron walked away disappointed, Breitbart News’ Kerry Picket overheard. “It was a great speech—what we heard of it,” one of them said.
Midway through Obama’s inaugural speech, a man holding his toddler daughter’s hand turned to this reporter and asked: “Do you where the nearest McDonald’s is?”
“No,” I responded. “Not sure, sorry.”
The man picked his child up and walked off the mall.
He was hardly the only one unimpressed with the man for whom he voted to lead the free world. Before the president even wrapped up his speech, crowds raced back from the mall. They marched toward the Metro stops in the area to hightail it out of the inauguration ceremony or hoofed it toward their next destination.
After the day’s events were over, a tee-shirt saleswoman on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Second Street southeast Washington, D.C.–right next to the Capitol–struggled to sell the overflowing stock of unsold Obama merchandise. “Everybody looks good in Obama!” she shouted as passersby waltzed around her, uninterested.