The peaceful transfer of power

By U.S. Sen. Angus King

    For a guy who less than a year ago thought he was out of politics, today (Jan. 21) was an amazing experience. The inauguration of a U.S. president is always moving and filled with a sense of history, but today I found myself with (almost literally) a front row seat, as the accompanying pictures show.

    The day started with a short interview on CNN as the crowds started to gather at the west front of the Capitol (the side facing the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial) and continued at our new office with family and constituents coming by to pick up tickets for the ceremony. From the office, I made my way through the tunnel from the Russell Senate Office Building to the Capitol and joined my new colleagues on the floor of the Senate. (I have to say that simply walking on to what is universally referred to around here as The Floor is an amazing experience, especially for someone who worked here 40 years ago as a junior staffer; “surreal” is the word that keeps coming to mind).

    At about 10:30, we processed in a ragged line through the Capitol to the great rotunda and then down a set of stairs to the temporary platform built over the west front steps and out into the cold, bright day. Soon thereafter, the Supreme Court entered in their black robes, followed by the cabinet, former presidents Jimmy Carter with Ms. Roslyn and Bill Clinton and Hilary (she looked great — no sign of her recent illness), and the families of the president and vice president.

    In this one small space at this brief moment you could see pretty much the entire government of the United States — both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, the president, the cabinet, and the nation’s governors, all in a steep amphitheater focused on the podium where the historic oath would soon be taken.

    I sat with senators from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Texas as we listened to the prayers, speeches, poems, and songs. And finally, just before noon, Justice Roberts administered the oath and Barak Obama was officially embarked upon his second term. The President’s speech was strong —alternatively soaring with the words of the founders (“We … The People”) and specific (climate change, economic fairness) and delivered with confidence and conviction. I’m sure there will be reams of commentary on each phrase and idea, but in my view, the President achieved the most important goal of such an occasion — the clear statement of a vision, rooted in the past but resolutely focused upon the future.

    Over 200 years ago, George Washington observed that the really important election and inauguration weren’t the first but were instead the second and those which would follow — because they would successively demonstrate that we had mastered something very unusual in the history of the world — the peaceful transfer of power. And it happened again today — and one way or another, we were all witnesses.

    What a great country.

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