January 21, 2009 | Issue 45•04
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day address—a speech that many believed would jumpstart the healing process of an ailing nation, foster hope and goodwill across the world, and serve as the ultimate stamp on the Democrat’s historic win—was ruined Tuesday by nearly two hours of nonstop jackhammering.
Obama paid tribute to those brave Americans who paved the something for something something faith something history.
According to D.C. officials, the jackhammering interrupted the landmark address on 30 separate occasions and came from the nearby U.S. Botanic Garden, where it was being used to break up pavement for a new Heroes of Horticulture exhibit.
“My fellow—,” began Obama, who then stopped when he and the 2.5 million citizens present, some of whom had traveled thousands of miles to experience the once-in-a-lifetime event, were startled by loud, metal-on-concrete banging. “My fell…my fell…my—.”
“Is that a jackhammer?” Obama added.
Though Obama first acknowledged the incessant jackhammering with an impromptu joke, saying, “Well, I know one guy who doesn’t need a job,” the typically poised orator grew gradually more annoyed as it became clear that the shrill thumping was not going to stop.
Obama appeared most frustrated about halfway through the address when reverberations from the pneumatic drill set off several dozen nearby car alarms, drowning out the new president’s attempt to describe his vision for America’s future in a changing world.
“If the person currently operating the jackhammer can hear me, please stop,” Obama said at approximately the eight-minute mark of his speech. “Seriously, please. Stop it now.”
The unremitting pounding caused the first African-American president to sigh or roll his eyes a combined 17 times, most notably during an apparently eloquent passage conveying his “lifelong desire to [unify or commit] the United States to a [common goal, higher purpose, or challenge] by 2012.”
During a particularly loud spell of thuds, Obama muttered, “Oh, come on.”
Footage of the event shows that when the president tried to explain how perseverence and pride could help rebuild a better society for all, he was interrupted not only by the jackhammer, but by several audience members who shouted, “Speak up,” “Louder,” and “I can’t hear you over all this jackhammering.”
At one point during the address, Obama stopped talking entirely and walked off the stage for nearly five minutes. When he returned, he asked the restless crowd for calm and understanding.
“Okay, so, it looks like they’re not going to stop jackhammering. We’re just going to have to keep going, I guess,” Obama told the massive group, many of whom had already begun walking to their cars. “I’ll try to speed through it.”
A transcript released by his campaign prior to the address revealed that Obama ultimately cut the speech short by six pages, omitting a section about the conflict in Afghanistan and a point-by-point explanation of his economic recovery plan.
According to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of the lasting images of the 2009 presidential inauguration will be Vice President Joe Biden, seated just 20 feet behind Obama, cupping his right ear in a desperate attempt to hear what the 44th president was saying.
“Inauguration addresses have always brought us inspirational and defining moments,” Goodwin said. “FDR reminded Americans that all they had to fear was fear itself. John F. Kennedy encouraged citizens to ask what they could do for their country.”
“And now President Barack Obama offers his own stirring message,” Goodwin continued. “‘Bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang bang.'”
Those in attendance agreed that it was nearly impossible to make out a single sentence of the historic address.
“I wanted to leave the speech with a feeling that this man was a beacon of hope, that he was going to lead us out of the doldrums and into a bold new beginning,” said Nathaniel Washburn, a 72-year-old African-American who brought his grandchildren to the inauguration. “But I couldn’t hear a goddamn thing.”
“I thought it was really, really cool,” said Washburn’s 7-year-old grandson, Gregory. “When I grow up, I want to be a jackhammer operator.”
That kid Gregory and I have something in common: a new hero.