News analysis: "Yes Pecan," Obama mania, and the celebration we need
Published: Monday, January 19, 2009 - 11:09pm
Gargoyle assistant editor
Posted Monday, Jan. 19, 2009
THE CONSTITUTION MANDATES that the president-elect make an oath or affirmation before becoming president. On Tuesday, at noon Eastern time, Barack Obama will be officially sworn in as the 44th U.S. president at the 56th presidential inaugural.
Obama’s inauguration is perhaps the most anticipated in history, and the depth and breadth of excitement is palpable, especially if you are anywhere near the Washington, D.C., area, a city that voted 92 percent in Obama’s favor.
In the Metro, almost all advertisements make punning references to "change" or "yes we can." The Metro tickets show Obama's face, and stores are crammed with Obama merchandise and memorabilia.
Companies are taking advantage of his popularity. Pepsi’s new logo is reminiscent of Obama's campaign artwork. Ben and Jerry’s “Yes Pecan” is the unofficial Obama ice cream. Obama items sell.
This inauguration is different. There is a freshness that transcends the civic ritual. Obama, 47, is the leader of a younger generation. This is not just another handoff of power.
It is not often that a president as beleaguered in public opinion as George W. Bush (22 percent approval rating) is replaced by someone so highly esteemed (83 percent transition approval rating). The country is clearly in crisis and we need change.
Activities surrounding the inauguration are stretching over four days; they started on Sunday with a welcome event for the public and will end with a prayer service on Wednesday.
Some 240,000 tickets were made available for Tuesday's ceremony, which will take place on the steps of the Capitol. Those free tickets were distributed through members of Congress. For those who don’t have a ticket, there is standing room on the National Mall, and JumboTrons will be placed around the area to accommodate the crowds.
The inauguration theme, "A New Birth of Freedom," commemorates the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. Both Obama and Lincoln were legislators from Illinois. They were elected at crucial moments in the nation's history. And the election of one paved the way for the election of the other, more than a century later.
Obama will stress responsibility and accountability in his inauguration speech, but the pressure is on him to produce a historic sound bite. For example, Lincoln spoke of "the better angels of our nature," Roosevelt warned Americans that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," and Kennedy urged Americans to "ask what you can do for your country."
Over the years, presidents have changed inauguration rituals, through their actions as well as their words. Determined that his presidency was to be the people's, Andrew Jackson in 1829 had a populist celebration. Jimmy Carter abandoned his limousine in 1977 and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to symbolize openness in the wake of the secrecy of the Watergate era.
Obama hopes to make his inauguration the most inclusive, open, and accessible in American history. (That probably explains why he picked the controversial religious figures Rick Warren and Gene Robinson to participate in the inauguration). It will be notable for the attempts to keep wealthy corporate lobbyists at bay and to include everyday citizens in the events. The "Neighborhood Inaugural Ball," with free tickets is reserved for D.C. residents.
With increasing numbers of people out of work and a deepening global recession, the U.S. enmeshed in a war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and renewed hostilities in the Middle East, to name just a few of the problems he inherits, Obama will have to celebrate without appearing insensitive or indulgent. In one of the attempts to reflect the mood of the nation, Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, will also take part in some form of community service in Washington.
Obama's team estimates its activities will cost $45 million — slightly more than Bush's second-term inaugural in 2005 (at least $40 million). That pays for everything except security and the actual swearing-in ceremonies at the Capitol.
Yet in an astonishing display of journalistic incompetence by some, and pure malicious lying on the part of others, the total cost for the Obama inauguration (security included) has been compared to a partial cost of the Bush inauguration (security excluded). Therefore, Obama’s inauguration has been touted as by far the most expensive ever!
In reality the total costs are pretty similar. With security factored in, Obama’s is projected to be between $150 million and $160 million, and Bush’s was $157 million. Given that considerably more people will attend Obama’s ceremony than Bush’s and that inflation causes everything to be more expensive, Obama actually seems pretty restrained.
The bulk of inauguration costs go toward security. However, in contrast to the heavily protested Bush inaugurations of 2001 and 2005, Obama’s inauguration will be celebratory. Washington is expecting the largest attendance ever for an inaugural. For the first time, the full length of the Mall will be opened to accommodate a crowd of 2 million to 3 million people. A range of new costly practices are implemented to bolster security.
The second Bush inauguration in 2005 also featured a substantial amount of security. That is because the high security measures and lockdown were in anticipation of protests, not because of a throng of supporters. Only 400,000 showed up.
While this inauguration has particular meaning, all inaugurations are historic events that should be watched. Uni students Tuli Bera and Wyatt Bensken are lucky enough to go to D.C., but for the rest of us there are other ways to see it all.
A television will be playing in the second-floor hallway of Uni during the inauguration. Besides TV, there will be plenty of live streams over the Internet, including the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
CNN.com is partnering with Facebook so you can see your friends’ status updates while watching. If you are stuck in class you can keep up on your iPhone, which will stream it through Ustream.tv. People lining the parade route will also be Twittering.
The communal experience of the inauguration will extend beyond the Mall to include theater screenings (at 27 across the country) hosted by MSNBC. Some Starbucks coffee shops will also host screenings. Other screenings are being planned at churches, community centers, government offices, and bars. In New York, the inauguration will be shown on the Astrovision screen in Times Square.
Despite difficult times Obama is experiencing a powerful wave of optimism. Americans are confident that he can turn the economy around and they are prepared to give him years to deal with the crush of problems he faces. The goal of Obama’s inaugural celebrations is to begin to heal the wounds of eight divisive years. If anything, people need reason to celebrate even more during tough times.