After Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of the office of the presidency for the first time, cannons blasted mere yards away from me in the 21 gun salute common to the inauguration of every new president of the United States. The pageantry that often marks off a capital “H” Historic moment was loud and clear in my ears. The new president took a podium looking out over us 2 million onlookers and implored my generation and our seemingly cashed and failed preceding ones to give a chance to government and to give a chance to ourselves. A skeptic — wow, that’s an understatement — of presidential politics for my adolescent and young adult life under the Bush administration, I found myself willing to open myself to this new presidential figure if at least momentarily. To hear a United States president speak of our commitment to developing nations, acknowledge non-believers as equals in our national spiritual compass, and note, with bittersweet pride, the blood of slaves that was spent bringing him to this podium, rang true for me in a way unique to this new president. Even as his rhetoric occasionally echoed the words Bush used throughout his presidency, his tone indicated a more ambitious, less vengeful, more fundamentally decent understanding of the world. It was fitting, then, that both Rev. Joseph Lowery and poet Elizabeth Alexander both clung to “love” as the value to cherish under this presidency, something surely limited to the dregs of hippie-dom at most other times in modern political memory.

I, along with my girlfriend, clawed through crowds in the fabled purple ticket holders “line” to our obstructed view spot on the Capitol lawn beginning at 5:15 am, reaching a spot at about 11 am, and, like a vast majority of the country and much of the world witnessed the oath, the cannons’ blast and heard a speech that I found uniquely inspiring, particularly in its call for individual work and decency. These are not themes unique to Obama as far as inaugural speeches go, but in conjunction with my time on his presidential campaign, as well as my longtime following of his writings and career, I believe that his inclinations as a politician are uniquely geared towards rewarding the realization of those values.

What I had not considered was how much of this pageantry drove the days proceedings. The parade of former presidents had the assembled crowd display their relative affections for the respective aging politicians. I relished joining the rest of the crowd in showering Bush with boos and a rendition of “na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye,” but by the time Obama had begun to impose his new sense of decency as presidential prerogative, I felt shamed into letting go of my urge to shame the thankfully former president. Then again, perhaps a little shaming was in order.

It is hard to fathom a crowd as large as that which assembled on Tuesday in Washington, DC, especially for the ones who were in it. Suffice to say, a willingness to give up personal space and physical well-being was a necessity. While I was legitimately inspired to witness the inauguration of the country’s first black president, it was clear that there was an aspect of perhaps less inspiring celebrity worship that permeated the events. This was especially true at the official Southern inaugural ball, where I worked as a volunteer escorting journalists around the floor of the DC Armory to interview ball attendees. A significant number of the 10,000 attendees arrived only to immediately stake out a spot in front of the podium where the VP and President would dance with their wives… for one verse each of a song. The scripted grace of both couples was great to see, though hilarious in its acknowledgment of how ridiculous some of this pageantry is. Can you imagine going to ten different dances in one night and asking thousands of random people, “How beautiful is my wife?” In any other world but that of the absurd official balls, you’d have to say Obama was just being a self-important horndog!

The city was packed with visitors for the inauguration at every turn. Even as we drove back to Philadelphia the next night, a rest stop in northeastern Maryland was packed with travelers donning their newest Obama buttons, hats and t-shirts. There are obviously people who aren’t on board the Obama train, even after all of this pomp, circumstance, and a bit of substance. But to not at least be willing to give it a chance as observers and participants in Obama’s calls for work, responsibility, decency, and opportunity would be the work of a cold heart indeed. In a world where those things are possible, I can still hold out even the slightest bit of hope for progressive, dare I say liberal change in this country. Or at least health care!

More on the inaugural poet from Ta-Nehisi Coates:

When Clinton picked Maya Angelou it was revolutionary for a lot of young black kids in schools across the country–we had to study that poem in English class. Picking Alexander is a much more subtle move which I hope folks won’t miss. Put bluntly, the whole “competence aesthetic” has been extended to the poets also. I’m not dissing Clinton here, or giving undue credit to Obama–this is about the moment in history. So much has changed since then.

I’m not sure why I’ve gotten on this kick about the inaugural, but I guess I’m interested in how this new presidency will or won’t embrace the arts – something about which the Bush administration never gave a damn.

Once I’m already discussing the day’s proceedings and their symbolism, it would be absurd not to mention the pick of Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inaugural. Like many, I call shenanigans on this move. Sure, Obama wants to seem inclusive, but a guy who thinks gays are the equivalent of pederasts is not the way to do it. The counter-balance of Rev. Joseph Lowery (a powerful religious advocate on GLBT issues) is small consolation. It’s important to stand up to bigots even – and perhaps especially – if they carry the Obama imprimatur. If we’re so inclusive, where’s the token anti-semite to take part as well?