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The endless drone strikes, the massive snooping, the busted healthcare website—maybe we should have seen all of the disappointments of the first year of President Barack Obama’s second term coming in January. Because Obama’s second inauguration—while still vastly superior to, say, George W. Bush’s—was nothing like the first.
Four years ago, the Mall seemed like the only place virtually everyone in the country wanted to be on Jan. 20. (OK, except the tens of millions of people who voted for John McCain.) The parties never got old, however endless; the crowds were happy, even when they found themselves herded into something that’s gone down in history as the Purple Tunnel of Doom. The city was even more alive than usual, electric with excitement over the first black president, the first Generation X president, the first president who wasn’t George W. Bush in eight years.
Fast forward to this past January, though, and things were a little more subdued. Sure, Beyoncé was there, but it turned out she was lip syncing. Yes, the crowds were there, but no one even fantasized that there’d be so many tourists in that they could rent their place out for enough money to bump themselves up into that higher tax bracket Obama was calling for. There were some definite new highlights for D.C.: The Obamas strode proudly along the Pennsylvania Avenue NW cycletrack when they got out to walk, and the presidential limo sported—for the first time since Bill Clinton left office—the city’s “Taxation without Representation” protest tags. But it all felt a bit like deja vu. Right down to the six-figure viewing stand the D.C. government built on our dime to watch.