The Note, 1/19/09: Past as Present — History Matters for Obama Inaugural

By Caitlin Taylor

Jan 19, 2009 8:22am

By RICK KLEIN The politicking and the policy-making can wait. This is about the pageantry. And in it rests the promise — and maybe the burdens — that Barack Obama brings with him to the presidency. Obama comes to the job with an acute sense of his own place in history — plus a sense that history brings lessons and possibilities for what he wants to get done. This is when words really do matter. Obama is looking back to look forward at this moment that belongs to him and his nation. The crowds who are snarling traffic and swelling subway cars in frigid Washington are more than star-gazing tourists. They are the reason for Obama’s success, and one of the main to be optimistic about his future. Said Obama, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for Sunday’s extraordinary concert: “As I stand here tonight, what gives me the greatest hope of all is not the stone and marble that surrounds us today, but what fills the spaces in between. It is you — Americans of every race and region and station who came here because you believe in what this country can be and because you want to help us get there.” The four days of choreographed events — with echoes of Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, and JFK — point to Obama’s mastery of the moments that can make politics sublime. It’s that ability that may be his most formidable power when he assumes the presidency at last on Tuesday. The crowds are his army: “Like President John F. Kennedy, who summoned citizens to think about what they could contribute to the nation, Obama hopes to turn some of the focus back onto the electorate, as he did with his grass-roots-driven presidential campaign,” Anne Kornblut writes in The Washington Post. “Aides who have seen parts of Obama’s speech said they expect it to meet or surpass expectations of a president-elect known for his soaring oratory. But Obama and his aides are working to play down expectations about how much he can accomplish in his first days in office.” Sunday’s scene: “It was an emancipation unlike anything Lincoln could have imagined — a mass of people of all ages and races, celebrating the election of the nation’s first black President, on ground once used as a slave market,” The New York Daily News’ Michael Saul and David Saltonstall write.  Obama needs the public to think big with him, to once again buy into his vision for the nation. That starts with remembering anew what brought them together behind his unlikely candidacy. “Historians have high expectations for Mr. Obama, who, they say, is especially adept at framing the moment and reaching for a larger context,” Jackie Calmes writes in The New York Times. “Analysts said Mr. Obama needed to create a sense of urgency, especially about the economy, to bring the public along with him and make Congress feel compelled to work with him.”  Previewing Tuesday’s speech — David Axelrod, on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Sunday: “I think he’s going to talk about where we are as a country, but also who we are as a people. And what responsibilities accrue to us as a result of that. And what we have to do to move forward. I’m not going to handicap whether it’s going to be a great speech, a good speech or — but I have confidence in the message that he wants to deliver and I don’t think you’ll be surprised by it.”  The inaugural speech is already written — though tinkering is still going on — and will clock in at between 15 and 20 minutes, ABC’s Jake Tapper reported Monday on “Good Morning America.” “This is just what he relishes, pressure to perform,” Bloomberg’s Al Hunt writes. “The world may well see not only a remarkably historic moment on the west front of the U.S. Capitol but also one of a handful of truly memorable inaugural speeches.”  Reflections of hope: “This year, the stars are calling for recession, war, and political gridlock. America’s answer is Barack Obama, and the notion that one man’s ascension to the presidency can, almost by itself, alter a nation’s mood and thereby change its fate,” Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe. “Reality is bad enough that people need to be inspired to go out and change it. And inspiration is what people want, need, and even expect out of the new president.”  A taste of his message, steeped in history: “What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that our Founders displayed. What is also required is that we break free from rigid ideology and small thinking, and together grab hold of this opportunity to bridge partisan divides and deliver change for the American people,” Obama writes in the Washington Times Monday.  Extraordinary times, extraordinary starts. Bloomberg’s Hans Nichols: “Barack Obama’s inauguration is dedicated to the proposition that all presidencies are not created equal.”  The flipside: All these expectations bring a burden along with them. “For Mr. Obama and his aides, finding a way to temper and manage all that emotion and optimism may be their biggest challenge in the next three days,” Helene Cooper writes in The New York Times.  Where he stands: A 79 percent favorability rating, with 80 percent pleased with his transition — with deep angst about where the nation is heading, per the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.  “A potentially volatile mix of high hopes for the new president and deep dissatisfaction with the country’s condition greets Barack Obama’s inauguration – a political fulcrum that could tip for or against him as he grapples with the country’s economic crisis,” ABC Polling Director Gary Langer writes.  Monday brings a series of service events. Barack and Michelle Obama have lunch with volunteers. Then it’s the Kids’ Inaugural at the Verizon Center, and three bipartisan dinners — honoring Colin Powell, Sen. John McCain, and Vice-President-elect Joe Biden. Monday is also Martin Luther King, Jr. day: “The pairing of King Day and Inauguration Day — when the nation’s first African-American president will look across the National Mall to where King in 1963 declared, ‘I have a dream!’ — raises a question: Is Obama the fulfillment of King’s dream? And what, exactly, was that dream?” per USA Today’s Rick Hampson, Larry Copeland, Charisse Jones and William M. Welch.  For some, a particularly special moment: “Those of my generation, we will bring a special kind of memory, a special kind of fulfillment to that moment,” Rev. Otis Moss Jr. tells ABC’s Jennifer Parker. “We will feel the presence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., himself, of the four little girls who died in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, of a Thurgood Marshall.”  Writes Martin Luther King III, in The Washington Post: “Mr. Obama will have the opportunity and the duty to pick up the mantle of Abraham Lincoln, of Lyndon Johnson, of Bobby Kennedy — and of Martin Luther King Jr. Yet this duty is not Obama’s alone. We must all embrace this dream as our civic responsibility. For it to function effectively, we must all take an active role in our democracy and champion the cause that is the common good.”  Speaking powerfully, on race: “There is an entire generation that will grow up taking for granted that the highest office in the land is filled by an African American,” Obama said in an interview last week with The Washington Post. “I mean, that’s a radical thing. It changes how black children look at themselves. It also changes how white children look at black children. And I wouldn’t underestimate the force of that.”  Then, Obama will be moving fast: Forget 100 days — it will be a busy first 100 hours. “Vans will be poised at the Capitol to take a few top aides of Barack Obama’s to their new offices at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. as soon as he is sworn in,” Politico’s Mike Allen reports. “About 20 senior officials have had their paperwork cleared to enter the White House complex on Tuesday. Some will attend a traditional lunch with the new president in the Capitol, then get to work while the inaugural parade is under way.”  “On Wednesday, his first full day in office, he will call in his military commanders as he promised during the campaign in order to come up with a withdrawal plan from Iraq,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reports. Stephanopoulos: “He also will issue executive orders to issue the closing of Guantanamo Bay, though he won’t say a time. And in week one, he’s going to appoint new envoys to carry out his diplomatic missions: Dennis Ross, a longtime middle east peace negotiator will focus on Iran and other areas and Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated the Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia, will focus on India and Pakistan.” Plus — a quick order to start the 16-month troop withdrawal from Iraq: “He is going to begin that process as promised on that,” Axelrod told Stephanopoulos.  Moving from speech to action: “Obama’s aides said he was readying an inaugural address that would stress twin themes of responsibility and accountability, and they predicted he would devote his first week in office to economic recovery, setting in motion a 16-month troop withdrawal from Iraq and decreeing a code of ethics for his administration,” David Espo and Ben Feller write for the AP.  This has symbolism as well as substance: “Obama has instructed his economic team to write unusually tough new regulations hammering Wall Street and the banking industry to avoid another credit, housing and investment crisis, the Daily News has learned,” Ken Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News. “I think he’s going to have a strong message for the bankers. We want to see credit flowing again. We don’t want them to sit on any money that they get from taxpayers,” Axelrod said on “This Week.”  Then come the 100 days: “There’s a plan for what to do with the rest of the first 100 days. We just don’t know it yet because the Obama people are so damn disciplined,” Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter writes. “It will likely involve setting the table for big changes in energy and health-care policy with bills boosting renewable energy and extending health-insurance coverage to children (which passed the House last week). Obama will soon assume his role as educator in chief with the televised discussions he promised during the campaign. The press will predictably say these wonkfests are for show, and it’ll be half right. While the real deal will go down, as always, in private, these sessions will help Obama build public support for his program.”  Look who was in town for the weekend: “The Rev. Jeremiah Wright may have made his peace with the former parishioner he once suggested turned on him for political gain, President-elect Barack Obama, but in an exclusive interview, he showed he’s still furious with the media, who he called ‘evil,’ and said he’s ‘not going to kiss anybody’s behind.’ ” per ABC’s Tahman Bradley and Ferdous al-Faruque.  “Asked about the change in his demeanor since the Press Club appearance, Wright responded by attacking the journalists who were there that day for being obsessed with his relationship to Obama. He instead had hoped that the media would focus on his presentation about the black religious tradition,” they write. Says Wright: “They were arrogant, they were evil, they were devious and I responded in kind. . . . I just talked to you about a 500-year tradition but you don’t ask me one question about that because that’s not your interest, your interest is to taint Barack Obama. So no, I’m not going to be conservative, I’m not going to kiss anybody’s behind and if I’m standing up straight you can’t ride my back.”  More welcome in town: “US Airways pilot Chesley B. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger and his family are going to the presidential inauguration, the mayor of his California hometown said Sunday,” per the AP’s Sudhin Thanawala. “An aide to President-elect Barack Obama said Sunday evening that all five members of the Flight 1549 crew have been invited to the inauguration Tuesday.”  A split worth watching: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to differ from Barack Obama on at least two issues — tax increases and investigating the Bush administration,” per the AP’s Libby Quaid. “The California Democrat is pushing the president-elect to make good on a campaign promise that attracted some of the harshest criticism during the election — that Obama is a typical tax-and-spend Democrat who would raise taxes once in office.”  “The administration is well aware that repeal will be highly divisive. Many key Republicans have made it clear they will fight hard to preserve the breaks, and Obama is trying to cool partisan fervor in his opening days, consulting with GOP leaders about the stimulus and winning praise from top Republicans for his efforts,” McClatchy’s David Lightman writes.  A partnership worth tracking: “Over the last three months, Mr. Obama has quietly consulted Mr. McCain about many of the new administration’s potential nominees to top national security jobs and about other issues — in one case relaying back a contender’s answers to questions Mr. McCain had suggested,” David D. Kirkpatrick writes in The New York Times. “Mr. McCain, meanwhile, has told colleagues ‘that many of these appointments he would have made himself,’ said Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and a close McCain friend.”  Added Graham: “What the Obama-Biden administration has talked about is not losing the gains we have achieved. . . . Obama does not want to be the guy who lost Iraq when it is close to being won.” Who is most hurt by this — the hacks or the flacks? “Barack Obama may get to keep his BlackBerry, but David Axelrod is losing his IM,” Politico’s Ben Smith reports. “The lawyers broke the bad news to Obama aides at a briefing Friday morning convened by incoming Deputy White House Counsel Cassandra Butts: Not only are they leaving the modern world to enter a White House where some of the clunky desktop computers still run Windows 2000 but — worst of all — they’ll be forced to surrender a form of communication staffers have relied on for the last two years to communicate with each other, outside allies, and the press.”  Don’t miss Newsweek’s Tammy Haddad’s conversation with incoming National Security Adviser Jim Jones — who is pretty tough on the Bush administration, and a pretty tough guy all-around. “Marines don’t worry about the cold,” Jones said. “Pain is weakness leaving the body. . . . A little pain is good.” Why are all your Republican friends finding someplace warm (or just someplace different) to spend the weekend? Tribune Co.’s Jill Zuckman and Richard Simon write up the great GOP exodus. Roger Cohen updates a Billy Joel classic for the Obama years, for The New York Times.  The Kicker: “I love you back.” — Barack Obama, breaking from script in a speech Saturday on the train journey, in one quote that wasn’t drawn from Lincoln.  Viewing guide: ABC News will bring coverage of all the big events Monday and Tuesday, including an exclusive broadcast of Monday’s Neighborhood Ball.  ABC NewsNOW coverage starts at 10 am ET Monday, and at 9 am ET Tuesday.  Watch a special, one-hour edition of “Politics Live” at 11 am ET, with guests including Ken Burns, Don King, Dr. William Seale, and Cokie Roberts. Watch ABC NewsNOW coverage online HERE.  Bookmark the link below to get The Note’s daily morning analysis: For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day: Follow The Note blog on Twitter:

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