It was truly stirring to be in Washington DC on the national mall during the inauguration. No matter what your politics, it’s difficult to not be moved by the presence of so many people who want the best for their country.
I slipped in the back, near the Lincoln memorial, where the crowd was happy but low-key. No huge “Obama” chants, like the hard-core fans pressed in closer to the capitol, but a lot of rapt listeners, cheering at lines like Obama’s pledge to uphold the bill of rights.
I had my own cheers. Funny, nobody joined me in the chant for Steve Chu, our new energy secretary, when he appeared in the lineup before the speech. Then he said it: “Science!”
Obama said the word right up front, when he laid the groundwork of what his new administration would be about:
We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its costs.
I started the science-O-meter during the presidential debates. Obama handily beat McCain, using the word “Science” at least twice as often. But while the inauguration was historical in many respects, it was not as measured by the Science-O-meter. The word has been used in inauguration speeches before, for instance by Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy, who wielded it with more sinister undertones:
Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.
Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors.
I like to think by using the word Obama also meant something broader, that his policies will be driven more by facts than ideology. That seems evident in the phrasing he used to convey his core governing philosophy:
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.
After the inauguration I walked along the river towards Georgetown. Waved goodbye to Bush’s helicopter and went and ate lunch at Clyde’s restaurant. I drank and talked late into the night with my friends, wondering how anyone could manage to go to one ball, much less ten.
Now the work begins—and the science-O-meter keeps on ticking.