Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Size Matters

There seems to be some debate over precisely how many people attended Barack Obama’s swearing-in yesterday in Washington, D.C. The Associated Press reports that “More than 1 million people crammed onto the National Mall and along the inauguration parade route.” The New York Times concurs, recalling that “more than a million flag-waving people bore witness while Mr. Obama recited the oath with his hand on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used at his inauguration 148 years ago.” But CNN described a multitude in the “hundreds of thousands,” while The Washington Post put its trust in a “security official,” who pegged the crowd size at closer to two million--a new record (the previous record having been Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 inauguration, which was attended by 1.2 million people).

No matter whose numbers are right, it was clear to anyone watching the inauguration from the vantage point of the Mall or on television that Obama drew a whopping throng of enthusiasts eager to see him take up the reins of American power--and perhaps equally excited to see George W. Bush exit the White House after eight years of scandals, failures, incompetent actions, and the advancement of ideology over good sense. A few photographs tell the story of how popular Obama has become, and how much Americans wanted to witness the swearing-in of the nation’s first African-American president.

The top photograph here, borrowed from a blog called A Very Happy Life, shows the masses assembled on the Mall yesterday. Media reports said that people covered the ground for two miles in front of the U.S. Capitol, stretching all the way west to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

By comparison, here’s a shot of what I believe (judging by the grayness of his hair) is Bill Clinton’s second, 1997 inauguration as president of the United States:

A markedly smaller crowd came to Washington to see Ronald Reagan sworn in back in 1981:

UPDATE: Still more estimates on the crowd size here. And look here for information about how many people watched the events on television and the Web.

READ MORE:Obama’s Moment Arrives,” by Barton Gellman (The Washington Post); “An Era of Maturity,” by Steve Bennen (The Washington Monthly); “Obama Will Be One of Our Greatest Presidents,” by Frank Schaeffer (The Huffington Post); “Exit the Boy King,” by Maureen Dowd (The New York Times); “In U.S., 60% Tuned In to Inauguration as It Happened,” by Lydia Saad (Gallup); “Obama Inaugurations Got Unprecedented News Coverage” (Reuters); “Now, the Most Important Part of the Inauguration ... the Ratings,” by Richard Keller (TV Squad).

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