A Somber Obama

For a man famously calm and self-confident, the strain was evident.

01.20.09 2:37 PM ET

It was a cheery morning until Barack Obama showed up. Joe Biden practically skipped out of the Capitol building toward the dais, grinning and greeting friends. Aretha Franklin outdid even her own reputation. The Simple Gifts instrumental awed the crowd, dignified, lovely, a vast improvement over, say, Maya Angelou's leaden and banal poetry at Bill Clinton's first inaugural 16 years ago. Even Rick Warren, the cause of so much lefty hyperventilation, turned in a soothing performance, more Episcopal priest than right-wing crazy.

He stumbled through his oath, then launched into a speech almost indistinguishable from a State of the Union address.

Then came Obama. The new president glided onto the stage as if in a trance, not inhabiting his own body. He stumbled through his oath, ad libbing at one point, then launched into a somber speech almost indistinguishable from a State of the Union address. As for the state of our union, Obama described it as "this winter of our hardship."

Has a president ever taken office under more pressure? Two wars in progress and doubtless more to come, a collapsing economy, the inflated hopes of millions on his shoulders. Even for a man as famously calm and self-confident as Obama, the strain was evident. Whether you voted for him or not, you felt for him and hoped he's equal to it all.

Tucker Carlson is a senior political correspondent at MSNBC. He joined the network in February 2005 from CNN, hosting The Situation with Tucker Carlson and Tucker .