The Note, 1/20/09: On the Mountaintop: Obama Touts Personal Responsibility, Amid Great Expectations

Jan 20, 2009 7:29am

By RICK KLEIN He will — to borrow Mario Cuomo’s famous formulation — govern in prose soon enough. But Inauguration Day brings the poetry — the rhetorical foundations for a presidency where the expectations are matched only by the challenges. This sets the tone for a presidency, and maybe for an era. That doesn’t happen by thinking — or speaking — small. President-elect Barack Obama, in about 20 minutes that will fulfill the dreams of generations, will seek to take on what seems impossible: to lead a country through some of its biggest crises, and to live up to the hopes and dreams of the millions who are standing against the winds in Washington, D.C. and beyond to be lifted up by his leadership. The theme: personal responsibility. And the responsibility for the president-elect is intensely personal — the stakes high for him, and higher still for a country that has invested so much in what he represents. “Emergencies have always brought commensurate new authority for the presidents who faced them, not only because the public demanded action but also because rival branches of government went along,” Barton Gellman writes in The Washington Post. “The very ambition of Obama’s program, which has grown in proportion to the scale of the global economic collapse, augurs a potentially transformative term in office.” Amid the jubilation in the nation’s capital, a serious note from the president-elect: “Americans poured into the nation’s capital to celebrate the inauguration of their first black president. But with the U.S. in its worst economic crisis since the Depression and at war on two fronts, Barack Obama was expected to call on the country to embrace a new culture of responsibility when he takes office at noon,” Laura Meckler and Jonathan Weisman write in The Wall Street Journal. “Government can only do so much. … We’re going to have to take responsibility — all of us,” Obama said Monday. ABC News’ Jake Tapper: “The speech has been written and rehearsed, but Obama is still tinkering with the words that he hopes will mark a moment in history and galvanize the nation for a new ‘era of responsibility.’ ” At this moment, Obama is just about all things to just about all people — a transcendent figure who starts with one day where he’s expected to transcend. “More than any president since he was an infant, Mr. Obama has taken a place in society that extends beyond political leadership,” Peter Baker writes in The New York Times. “He is as much symbol as substance, an icon for the young and a sign of deliverance for an older generation that never believed a man with his skin color would ascend those steps to vow to preserve, protect and defend a Constitution that originally counted a black man as three-fifths of a person.” “Rarely has a new presidency been greeted with such a consensus of goodwill — and rarely has a new president so needed it,” Eugene Robinson writes in his Washington Post column. First steps toward taking biography and turning it into something greater for the country: “Obama’s challenge will be to translate the social repair that has occurred over the past decade into political and governing repair,” David Brooks writes in his New York Times column. “Part of that will be done with his inaugural address today. Look for him to emphasize the themes of responsibility, cohesion and unity. Look for him to reject the culture, which lingered in the financial world, of anything goes.” Living the theme: “On the eve of his inauguration, Obama spent the day doing what he is encouraging all Americans to do: national service,” Susan Milligan writes in The Boston Globe. “Obama is expected to make public service and sacrifice a strong theme of his inaugural address just after noon today, calling on all Americans to work to solve the nation’s problems. Yesterday, thousands of people around the country heeded Obama’s call for a day of service.”  And the workday starts at noon: “In one of his first acts as president, Barack Obama is planning to lift a rule that prevents federal money from going to international family planning groups that counsel women on abortion or perform the procedure,” Peter Nicholas and Christi Parsons write in the Los Angeles times. “Obama’s repeal of the abortion aid policy is one of several executive actions he will take soon after his inauguration today, according to Obama transition aides. He is also considering lifting Bush administration restrictions on federally funded stem cell research.” Work that won’t finish for a long while: “As one of his first actions, Obama plans to name former senator George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) as his Middle East envoy, aides said, sending a signal that the new administration intends to move quickly to engage warring Israelis and Palestinians in efforts to secure the peace,” Michael D. Shear and Karen DeYoung write in The Washington Post. “Mitchell’s appointment will follow this afternoon’s expected Senate vote to confirm Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. And tomorrow afternoon, aides said, Obama will convene a meeting of his National Security Council to launch a reassessment of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Obama’s day: Church, coffee at the White House with President Bush, a swearing-in just moments before noon outside the Capitol, Lincoln’s lunch, the parade, and 10 official inaugural balls. From the transition team: “President-elect Obama, Mrs. Obama, Vice President-elect Biden and Mrs. Biden will travel with President Bush and Mrs. Bush, Vice-President Cheney and Mrs. Cheney to the Capitol.  Vice President-elect Biden will be sworn in by Associate Justice John Paul Stevens. President-elect Obama will be sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. at 11:30 AM ET.  Mrs. Obama will carry the Lincoln Bible to the platform and hold it while the oath of office is administered. President Obama will deliver his Inaugural Address at approximately 12 PM ET.” ABC’s guide to the inaugural festivities. Nos. 43 and 44 will forever be linked by history: “On the eve of his inauguration as 44th president, Barack Obama dropped in on wounded veterans of a war that he vows to end, pitched in with community volunteers whose work he promises to promote and dined with leaders of two parties he pledges to unite. On the last full day in office for the 43rd president, George W. Bush kept a low profile at the White House but granted clemency for two former Border Patrol officers in a controversial case,” Mark Silva writes in the Los Angeles Times. “The acts of public service on the one hand and mercy on the other defined the day of the two leaders — one who enters the White House to great expectations, another who leaves with many people disappointed in his performance.” A quiet end (we presume) on the pardon front: “In a move that has keenly disappointed some of his strongest conservative allies, President Bush has decided not to pardon Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, for his 2007 conviction in the CIA leak case, two White House officials said Monday,” Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff writes. Please, Mr. Vice President — don’t get up. Per the AP: “Vice President Dick Cheney pulled a muscle in his back while moving boxes and will be in a wheelchair for Tuesday’s inauguration ceremony. White House press secretary Dana Perino said Cheney was helping to move into his new home outside Washington in McLean, Va., when he injured his back.” Please Mr. Vice-President-elect — don’t shut up (and definitely don’t hush your wife). “Joe had the choice of being secretary of State or vice president,” Dr. Jill Biden said Monday on “Oprah” — leaving her husband, well, speechless.  Also leaving Biden spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander to issue a statement: “To be clear, President-elect Obama offered Vice President-elect Biden one job only — to be his running mate. And the Vice President-elect was thrilled to accept the offer.” On moving day, Jenna and Barbara Bush have advice for Malia and Sasha Obama, in The Wall Street Journal:

” — If you’re traveling with your parents over Halloween, don’t let it stop you from doing what you would normally do. Dress up in some imaginative, elaborate costume (if you are like us a pack of Juicy Fruit and a Vampiress) and trick-or-treat down the plane aisle. ” — If you ever need a hug, go find Ramsey. If you want to talk football, look for Buddy. And, if you just need a smile, look for ‘Smiley.’ . . . ” — Slide down the banister of the solarium, go to T-ball games, have swimming parties, and play Sardines on the White House lawn. Have fun and enjoy your childhood in such a magical place to live and play. ” — When your dad throws out the first pitch for the Yankees, go to the game. — In fact, go to anything and everything you possibly can: the Kennedy Center for theater, State Dinners, Christmas parties (the White House staff party is our favorite!), museum openings, arrival ceremonies, and walks around the monuments. Just go. Four years goes by so fast, so absorb it all, enjoy it all!” Viewing guide: ABC News will bring live coverage of Tuesday’s festivities, starting with “Good Morning America” at 7 am ET through a special report that runs until 5 pm ET, with more to come on a special 90-minute “World News,” starting at 6:30 PM ET. In addition, ABC will broadcast the “Neighborhood Ball: An Inauguration Celebration” from 8 pm ET-10pm ET. At 10 pm ET, ABC News will air a special “A Moment in History: The Inauguration of Barack Obama,” featuring a Michelle Obama interview conducted by Bob Woodruff Monday at the site of the “Kids’ Inaugural” concert. A special edition of “Nightline” will be co-anchored by Terry Moran and Cynthia McFadden at 11:35pm ET. ABC NewsNOW coverage starts at 9 am ET Tuesday, and runs until 10 pm ET, hosted by Sam Donaldson and Rick Klein. The guest list includes Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King III, Michael Reagan, Peter Beinart, and Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty.  Watch ABC NewsNOW coverage online HERE. Bookmark the link below to get The Note’s daily morning analysis:
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