Tuesday, January 20, 2009

# Posted 12:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INAUGURATION DAY MINUS ONE: In several hours, I head downtown toward the general vicinity of the Inauguration. I don't have a ticket, but I figure with the size of the crowd expected, I'll still be in the midst of the celebration and get a sense of its feeling.

I also went down to the Mall today to see if I could take the pulse of the celebration a little bit early. I spent around two hours downtown, tracing a path westward across the mall toward the Capitol, then up Pennsylvania Avenue back toward the White House.

In short, the atmosphere was apolitical. I expected to see a welter of citizen activists handing out pamphlets, giving speeches and Being The Change that will begin tomorrow. Instead, there was only Obama. His face and his name were on t-shirts, hats, buttons, posters and everything else being sold by a small army of vendors that blanketed the Mall and its surroundings. Almost every one of the thousands of people I passed by was wearing one or more Obama item. The vendors must have been doing quite well. I hope they're ready for tomorrow.

If one looked carefully, there were a few telltale signs of citizen politics. A handful of individuals had Code Pink stickers on their coats that read "Make Out, Not War." A few people had video cameras or tape recorders. The only real noise was being made by three individuals with picket signs that displayed a long list of all those who are bound for hell -- Baby Killers, Homos, Porno Freaks, Idolaters, Muslims and various others.

Not surprisingly, the three with picket signs were surrounded by thirty Obama supporters shouting them down. The Obama brigade took various approaches to the nuisance. One man quietly approached one of the sign holders and sought to engage him in a calm discussion about religion and politics. Another man, responding to the picketers' challenge to show his knowledge of even one verse of scripture, yelled out "Just not lest ye be judged! Judge not lest ye be judged!" Two women started chanting "I will go to heaven! I will go to heaven!" The lead picketer didn't yield. He kept telling people again and again that they would go to hell. Eventually, the Obama brigade decided on the same approach as the picketers. In unison, they started chanting "You will go to hell! You will go to hell!"

That is how this sort of thing usually ends. People just yelling at each other mindlessly. I've been to a fair number of anti-war protests. When the protesters run up against counter-protesters, yelling is the result. But mindless yelling is democracy, too.

In this instance, I think the picketers only damaged whatever cause they were trying to support. I think they accomplished nothing except to validate the unfortunate stereotypes that so many liberals seem to have when it comes to conservative Christians. Precisely for that reason, Rick Warren's presence at the inauguration will be so valuable. While recognizing that Barack Obama also has political reasons for extending the invitation to Warren, it's still the right thing to do.

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