Four more years began just after noon today with a lifeless inaugural ceremony that reflected -- inadvertently, but still -- the ambivalence of a divided nation.
After Dick Cheney sped-read his oath as if he had somewhere else he needed to be, Chief Justice William Rehnquist swore in George W. Bush for a second term. Rehnquist, his breath wheezing out through a tracheotomy tube, seemed remarkably hale and happy for a man suffering from the advanced stages of cancer. Bush, by contrast, was subdued for a man celebrating his own political triumph.
The president's address was long on sweeping pronouncement -- about the transforming power of liberty abroad and the wonders of an "ownership society" at home -- and short on details. The word "Iraq" didn't come up, and Bush offered no specifics about his second-term agenda.
Maybe it was the cold, but the partisan crowd seemed unimpressed. Long, awkward silences greeted some of Bush's applause lines, and when the cheering came it was muted. Late in the speech, the rumble of protesters -- kept blocks away by waves of law enforcement -- could be heard at the president's podium. A man in a choice seat near the front began to boo Bush loudly. The president continued speaking as if nothing had happened, and his supporters drowned out the dissent with loud applause and chants of "USA."