Obama's Inauguration Plays to Raves and Jeers in San Francisco

This had to have been the first time a group of San Franciscans booed someone in a wheelchair. But when Dick Cheney first rolled onto the giant screen the people in SF's Civic Plaza hooted as one.
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This had to have been the first time a group of San Franciscans has booed someone in a wheelchair.

But when Dick Cheney first rolled onto the giant TV screen, looking with his cane and trademark grimace like a villain in a Harry Potter film, the thousands of people gathered in SF's Civic Plaza to watch the DC inauguration hooted as one. Their first mass shout-out of the morning.

I always thought sitting was the worst thing you can do for a bad back. And if FDR could get it together, clutching podiums to hoist himself to his feet, what's with Mr. Cheney? Grump to the end, seemed to be the local sense. Goodbye. Don't let the chopper door slam your chair on the way out.

There were other uniquely San Francisco responses to this morning's inaugural. I mean who else boos a prayer? Of course it was anti-gay marriage Pastor Rick Warren's prayer. When he started in, the people at Civic Center turned it into an old-fashioned Baptist call-and-response thing, only not in a good way. "You are loving to everyone," the Pastor said about God. "YEAH! EVERYONE!" the crowd shouted out, not missing a beat. "Justice for all," preached the preacher. "Yeah, come ON,'" answered the crowd. "Where we treat all fellow human being with the respect they deserve.." "RIGHT!"

It was a prayer of irony for locals here. No one joined Pastor Warren when he recited the Lord's Prayer. But even so, there was a good-natured quality to the cat-calls and a chorus of "amens" that joined his at the end. Like, it's OK. You've got a gay problem but we've got a new president.

And of course, when that president gave his own speech, there was big applause throughout. I'm pretty sure, however, that nowhere else but here did the line, "We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers" get its biggest ovation on the "non-believer" part.

Watching Dianne Feinstein's face filling the CBS broadcast frame, with the backdrop of San Francisco City Hall behind the screen, there was a surreal juxtaposition of past and present, event and personalities. Senator Feinstein began her career in that building as a supervisor and was first propelled onto the national stage, also from there, in the blood and violence of the 1978 killings here when a younger, shaken and much less self-assured woman faced banks of cameras from everywhere.

Perhaps mindful of her own historical trajectory, Dianne noted in her address opening the inaugural as its chairwoman, that we live "in a world where political strife is often beset by violence...". She hailed the triumph of "the ballot over the bullet" and paid tribute to "those who worked and died to make (the country's promise) a reality." In DC, people were thinking Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others. Somewhere in Senator Feinstein's thoughts must have been Harvey Milk and George Moscone.

Dianne and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who once lived a few doors from each other on SF's Presidio Terrace, had escorted Barack Obama to the main stage. First Congressional Husbands Paul Pelosi and Dick Blum walked out ahead of Michele Obama and Jill Biden. Paul got almost as much camera time as Mr. Obama.

It was a San Francisco-centric kind of moment, like an evening at the Gettys'. But in San Francisco itself, at this public celebration, there wasn't a single Bay Area politician present to share the moment with his/her constituents. Someone said Tom Ammiano might show. Gavin Newsom, when the network commentators first mentioned seeing him in Washington, got one lone "woo!" in the Plaza. Most people of note were probably on the other Coast.

News reports said 600 private planes had flown into Washington for the inaugural celebration. In the face of populism and environmental concerns, that seems a little like people with powdered wigs and heavy makeup showing up at Andrew Jackson's swearing in. Democratic snoot and celebrity may have been right for the hard-partying Bill Clinton but a little atonal for Barack Obama.

In San Francisco, on the other hand, there were only two people sitting in the roped off, $150 seats in the front of the Plaza screen at 6:30 this morning, a whole five by 8:30. This was a free populist gathering and people expressed themselves loudly and consistently throughout the ceremonies.

It was a balmy 60 degrees, the porta-potties were still fairly pristine at 7:40, and people were sprawled in lawn chairs. A giant sepia origami Obama hung in one corner. There were no demonstrators in the area set aside for them. What? Apparently the temptation to kick George Bush in the traditional way didn't tempt anyone. No more Mr. Bush? What to do in the streets after this? All those useless declarations of contrarian foreign policy from our Supervisors...gone? Hard to imagine.

When Clarence Thomas appeared on the screen walking to his seat and there wasn't a single boo, I wondered if we'd moved on here. But it was just that the skim double-shot lattes had not kicked in yet. Mr. Bush, Sr., got a tepid hiss. Walter Mondale got a huge cheer, as did Jimmy Carter and the Clintons (no one cares about moral transgressions around here.)

"I have to get that HDTV converter for my TV," said someone in the crowd, giving strong hope that the economy might be coming back already. Another woman enthused, "This is bringing America together...ew, there's the Bush lady," gift-wrapping the contradictions felt by many San Franciscans.

This was the same Plaza where they filmed the final scene of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and people were mostly on the same page this morning, without the pods and Quaaludes. "Bye, you idiot!", someone yelled when outgoing President Bush came on the platform. "Gouging us on oil prices! I bet his pockets are full!" And shouted to the new First Lady: "You Go, Michelle. It's YOUR house now!"

There were more American flags waving from hands than have appeared in San Francisco's Civic Center since...ever.

Like the rest of the country, Aretha Franklin's musical vamping sent a high voltage surge through the pavement.

But, despite the largely uplifting morning, there was some grousing at CBS for showing crowds in several cities but this one. "Show US," several people shouted. "Come ON! You showed L.A. You GOTTA show us!"

Huge cheers exploded every time Mr. Obama's face appeared, the biggest one short of his swearing in when a CBS commentator said that George Bush's term had just expired shortly after 9 a.m. our time. When Chief Justice Roberts screwed up the oath, you could almost hear the conspiracy theories already starting to percolate. If not from a flock of San Franciscans, then where?

Now-President Obama's martial themes to his speech were as popular here as they probably were at West Point. "We will defeat you!" he said of America's enemies and no one in SF seemed to debate the sentiment. "Hey, don't you forget this day!" a mother yelled at her daughter.

Most people started walking away before the inaugural poem, back to their separate lives. Four young women laid out a blanket on the lawn and started in on a picnic, including beakers. Yes, we CAN...have mimosas this morning.

Is there a new air? Congressman John Lewis said earlier today, "We are gonna be a better people, a better society, we're gonna become one." While I don't believe you can ever have too much inspiration for people to show their better nature, there was the news ticker this morning: Human rights lawyer and journalist killed in Russia. Bombing in Iraq. Thai in jail for insulting the King. Salmonella in Peanut butter. New prosecutor in the Jon Benet Ramsey case.

"The laws of politics and human nature have not been suspended," Frank Sesno summed up on CNN.

But there's definitely been a change and everyone drawn to the broadcast in San Francisco this morning felt some of it, including the local pranksters who changed the "Bush" street signs to "Obama." So...where's my Universal Health Care, President Obama?

Pass the mimosas.

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