This week on Focus Washington I talked with large construction project expert Barbara Golter Heller. During our discussion Barbara advocated how better oversight and new technologies can help the Federal government spend the stimulus funds more efficiently and effectively, to get the most bang for the buck while meeting green goals and creating jobs.
Welcome to the Inauguration
I know that all the Washington insiders have said it is a waste of money and time to attend the Inauguration day festivities, especially the balls. There is something to that advice, but if you’ve never been to an Inauguration, this is certainly the one to attend. It doesn’t need to be emphasized that this is an historic event.
While it is true that the estimated two to four million coming to Washington for the Inauguration won’t actually see as much as those who remain in the comfort of their living rooms watching on television, there is still the factor of being able to say, “I was in Washington for Barak Obama’s Inauguration.”
I want to offer some words of advice to surviving an Inauguration for all those people coming into town for the festivities. In the years I’ve lived and worked here, I’ve been to several Inaugurations as a reporter. I’ve sat in an icy rain covering the Inaugural Address and stood in the cold reporting along the Pennsylvania parade route. I’ve also been to a few of the official balls at Union Station and the Sheridan Park Hotel. For those who want to be there for the Inaugural Address and parade, the best advice is dress warm and wear comfortable shoes, or boots. Nearly everyone has read about the big snowfall the day before the John F. Kennedy Inaugural and the bitter cold that caused the cancellation of Ronald Reagan’s second Inauguration. It’s the middle of January in Washington, so expect the worst.
It can be a painful experience to attend one of the official Inaugural Balls. The balls are always crowded and uncomfortable. In the ones I’ve attended, there is no place to sit, it is too crowded to dance, there is nothing to eat, and it is virtually impossible to get a drink. People beautifully dressed, mill about the ballroom and wait for the President and First Lady to arrive. When they come they walk onto the stage, wave and do a brief dance and then rush off to the next ball. With the street traffic the disaster it usually is and probably will be worse this time, it is difficult for even the President to get to the 10 or 11 balls he needs to visit. Once the visit is over there is little reason to stay at the ball.
If you are fortunate enough to be invited to one of the private balls, sponsored by one of the state societies or a lobbying or legal firm, those can be elegant and fun. It should be pointed out the President is highly unlikely to attend any of these, but the private functions take on the luster missing from the official events.
For those of us who are Inaugural Ball veterans, there are survival lessons. For example: wear comfortable shoes — women should avoid high heels; hire a car and driver or take metro – don’t drive. If you can avoid checking a winter coat or expensive fur, do so. It is also advisable to not wear that expensive Neimann Marcus gown or mink that could easily be ruined or lost in the crush. If you have spent the money for a car and driver, leave the coat in the car. There were almost riots at one of the Reagan Inaugural Balls at the coat check with long lines and people jumping over the counter to find their own coats. Plan to have dinner before or after the ball, because you won’t get food there. Don’t expect to see any political stars or even media celebrities. They will be at the private events, although a few congressmen and senators will often stop by at balls where they know constituents will be.
All that aside, if you have never attended an Inaugural Ball, this is the year to attend one. If I had never attended one and receive an invitation to attend one this year, I would go. It costs thousands of dollars on travel, hotel, transportation, clothing, and meals for an out-of-town couple to attend one of these events, but in attending, the couple becomes is a witness to history for one of the most historic Inauguration in American history. When you get back home you can regale your friends on what it was like to be part of President Barak Obama’s 2009 Inauguration. Expect annoying problems and discomfort, but don’t pass up the opportunity to be part of it.
Today, I had the opportunity to once again talk with democratic strategist, Rich Masters, who happened to be sitting in for Bill Press. We discussed the new Obama Administration, what to expect and what to anticipate. Rich talked a little about the inauguration and the inaugural address in which he thought there would be a call to American much like John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do you” line. If anything, the address has the potential to be one of the best in our short history.
It was April 3rd, more than 40 years ago, that Dr. Martin Luther King told a Memphis audience that he had been to the mountain top. He prophetically said, “…I’ve looked over and seen the Promised Land. I may not get there. But I want you to know … we as a people will get to the Promised Land.” The next day he was killed by an assassin’s bullet.
What Dr. King could never have predicted or even dreamed, was that all these years later Barack Obama, a black man, would be elected president of the United States – nothing could have been more indicative of reaching the Promised Land to Dr. King. In one of the most troubled times in American history, with an economic collapse and escalating wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, Obama will be sworn in on January 20th, as president. Not since Franklin D. Roosevelt has a president come to office facing such domestic and international dilemmas.
And, Obama, a man with a cool, seemingly unflappable demeanor, comes to office at the right time. He follows a disengaged President Bush whose cavalier international adventuring effectively destroyed much of this country’s stature abroad and stimulated the recruitment of radical Islamic terrorists. In the Arab word, the escalating Israeli war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, is seen not an Israeli attack, but an American offensive. The heart-rending photographs on the front pages of most American newspapers and network television news programs of Palestinian children suffering and dying in the Israeli attacks are only a small sample of the proliferation of similar photographs and television reports of the carnage of non-combatants seen in the Arab world. These same photographs are perceived in the Arab world as another example of American perfidy in its war on Islam.
In addition to the seemingly insurmountable economic crisis, President Obama will have to deal with this deep-seeded hatred the Bush Administration’s Middle East policy has exacerbated. For Obama, the challenges seem insurmountable, while the expectations for success are dangerously high. This President will have a short honeymoon and will direct one of the busiest Administration’s in recent history that includes such festering conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the growing threat of a nuclear Iran. It will help that President-elect Obama is a man of color with a decidedly non Anglo Saxon name. The simple fact of his unexpected election stunned much of the world and raised the esteem of the United States abroad in ways that are yet to be understood. But now, he has to deliver. He has an opportunity to succeed on the world stage, mostly because there is a desire that he will succeed. It is possible that desire will give him an edge that few incoming presidents have ever had. It remains to be seen if that will be enough of an edge.
On January 20th, a vast world audience will be watching and listening to President Obama’s Inaugural Address. There will most likely be a Kennedy-like call for national sacrifice, but he will also speak out across the assembled millions crowding the capital to that world audience, and talk of the need for a resolution to the Palestinian problem that has troubled the world since the creation of Israel in 1948. Like most of his speeches, it will undoubtedly be inspiring, but for many Americans who watched the painfully slow, often frightening and dangerous civil rights movement, there will be tears – tears of happiness in recognition of the accomplishment of Martin Luther King’s mountain top dream realized. It will not be the Promised Land of King’s soaring rhetoric, there is no such place, but it will be an affirmation of an America facing the reality of an ugly racial past with the realization that it can be better and that in such perilous times an inspirational, committed President Obama is a man who can speak to the world in a new and different way, and that in itself evokes some reassurance and comfort. And that may be part of what King meant that fateful night in Memphis.