It's worth pausing a moment to put the excitement over this incoming president in some recent political context. Clearly Obama is something of a historical phenomenon. But the moment is especially stark in contrast to the past few inauguration days. In 2000, remember, much of the country saw the man being sworn in as quite literally  illegitimate; it was a disorienting and somewhat stomach-turning moment. In 2004, there was a deep sense of division and resentment, and it wasn't totally unacceptable in polite circles to argue that the president was a war criminal.

Clinton's 1993 swearing-in wasn't  nearly as divisive as either of those days. But even then, the young new president was seen--even by plenty of Democrats--as a flawed and uncertain figure: A bit of a slick operator, someone prone to personal lapses, but one whose attributes outweighed his weaknesses. In 1996, Democrats were grateful that Clinton had rebounded from his early stumbles, but his presidency had settled into the stewardship of a bland prosperity, and his inaugural came with little sense of grandeur or great promise.

Today is something entirely different.

--Michael Crowley