A Great Gettin' Up Morning

Tuesday, 20 January 2009 12:49 By William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Columnist | name.

A Great Gettin
(Artwork: John Mavroudis / The Nation)

    The cover of the newest Nation Magazine depicts a painting of Obama's inauguration rendered and submitted by a member of the online web forum DailyKos. The painting is in no way historically accurate, as Thurgood Marshall is depicted delivering the oath, but in every meaningful way, the artwork is spot-on truth. Susan B. Anthony is there, and here, as is Nelson Mandela, and Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr., and Barbara Jordan, and Malcolm X, and Henry David Thoreau, and Gandhi, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and down at the front by the rail, there and here are four little girls from Birmingham who died in fire long ago. They are all on that podium today. We were all on that podium today.

One hundred forty-eight years of globalization with its benefits and its burdens make this a very different world from the one Lincoln lived and served in. Lincoln's failure would have left scarred the face of America, extending the cruel tragedy of slavery and perhaps fracturing the Union. His success helped keep the American dream alive. Obama's failure would heighten the threat of unprecedented global damage, but his success could help lead our great nation and this entire threatened world into a new period of enlightenment and progress. Obama's moment in history is a unique one. There has never been more to worry about, but neither has there ever been more to hope for. - Mario Cuomo, Newsday

    It's strange. You wait for a day to come, you wish for it and pine for it and imagine what it will be like, you want so badly and wait so long for it to come that you despair it will ever be, and then one day, you're there, and you're not quite sure what to do with yourself. That was today.

As Obama fiddled with his inaugural address and spent Martin Luther King Day touting the virtues of community service, a ghost-town aura settled over the White House as President Bush endured his last full day in office in virtual seclusion. He met with aides, received routine briefings and commuted the sentences of two Border Patrol agents. In the afternoon, he was visited in the Oval Office by his father, who was spending the night in the White House, most likely for the last time. West Wing offices were piled with packing boxes, and color photographs of Bush had been pulled down from office walls. Many staffers worked their last day Friday, leaving a skeleton crew. The press room was as empty as on a summer weekend. Asked about the mood, a Bush staffer said: "Quiet. Subdued." - Thomas M. DeFrank, New York Daily News

    There is a song I have been saving for this day. It is called "Medium Man/Floating Candles/Nighean Caileach Nan Cearc," and it's this wild, loud, exuberant bagpipe detonation performed by the Battlefield Band out of Edinburgh, Scotland. A long time ago, I chose this as my song of celebration, my anthem of triumph, and I have not played the damned thing even once in all these years. I have opened all the curtains, I have opened all the windows, I have cued up my song, and once the oath is done, the whole neighborhood is going to hear it.

Dr. King would have been 80 years old now. He came to national prominence not trying to elect an African-American president, but just trying to get us past the depraved practice of blacks being forced to endure the humiliation of standing up and giving their seat on a bus to a white person, some man or woman or child. Get up, girl. Get up, boy. Dr. King was just 26 at the time, a national treasure in a stylish, broad-brimmed hat. He was only 39 when he was killed, eight years younger than Mr. Obama is now. There are so many, like Dr. King, who I wish could have stayed around to see this day. Some were famous. Most were not. - Bob Herbert, The New York Times

    At ten past ten this morning, C-SPAN was showing the House of Representatives doing some giddy, gavel-heavy business that looked to make sense only to deranged parliamentarians and DC politicians. CNN was showing Wolf Blitzer's hair, of course, and MSNBC showed an aged, slow, trembling Muhammad Ali being led to his seat at the inauguration. Ali, who shocked the world, who adopted Islam, who offended and frightened the mainstream sensibilities of his time, who was pilloried for speaking his mind, who was stripped of his title for refusing to fight in Vietnam, who won again and again in the face of all comers, Muhammad Ali came to Washington to witness this day.

The American people have put great faith in President Obama. Opinion polls suggest that a strong majority of Americans believe he will improve their lives within the next year. Though we are skeptical of the power of any President to bring about such rapid improvements in the lives of his countrymen, we wholeheartedly join the rest of the nation in wishing Obama a successful presidency. America needs to believe in its President, and itself, again. - The Manchester Union Leader

    A Black woman in the crowd awaiting the inauguration ceremony had photographs of all her dead relatives taped to her body. She could barely speak through her emotions, but finally said she had wanted her whole family, dead and alive, to be in Washington, DC, to share the history and the momentousness of the day. There are a whole lot of eyes wide open today, and not all of them can be seen, but they all see what happens here.

Meanwhile, anti-war protesters have thrown shoes outside the gates of the White House on President George W. Bush's last day in office. About 500 people marched to the White House and threw about 40 pairs of shoes at the gate while tourists looked on and took photos. Supporters said they were acting in solidarity with Muntadhar al-Zeidi, the Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at Bush during a news conference in Baghdad in December. - The Associated Press

    The moving trucks arrived at the White House about forty minutes before the swearing of the oath. The transition within the interior of the White House is almost blinding. An army of government staffers blast into the residence immediately after the prior resident exits, haul out a zillion boxes, and then haul in a zillion more. It happens almost too fast to believe, and is done with machine-like efficiency. Just before noon they were packing, and unpacking, like a little slice of historically meaningful performance art. Out with the old, in with the new, and pass the bubble-wrap if you please.

Barack Obama takes office today with a realistic prospect of joining the ranks of history's most powerful presidents. The more familiar observation, that he confronts daunting trials, enhances that prospect. 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. Obama arrives with a rare convergence of additional strengths, some of them inherited and some of his own making. Predicting a presidency, to be sure, is hazardous business, and much will depend on Obama's choices and fortune. But historians, recent White House officials and senior members of the incoming team expressed broad agreement that Obama begins his term in command of an office that is at or near its historic zenith. - Barton Gellman, the Washington Post

    Dick Cheney allegedly injured his back moving boxes in his Maryland house, and was relegated to a wheelchair. They rolled him onto the podium with Mr. Bush at his side with musical pomp and ceremonial pageantry. One could not tell for sure from the TV audio, but it sounded at first like the million-or-so people in the crowd fell simply and solidly silent upon their announcement. No boos, no cheers, just cold and empty silence ... and then the crowd roared in what sounded for all the world like unrestrained rage.

The US is well on its way to becoming a "majority minority" country, where fewer than half the residents will be whites of European ancestry, raising issues of national identity and cohesion. Good-paying jobs in manufacturing continue to disappear, as they have for decades, but now high-paying ones in the financial sector are likely to vanish too. Among the fastest-growing age groups are Americans between 55 and 64; that increase highlights the growing burden of health care and pensions. Americans are more anxious than they've been in decades about their economic future. - Conor Dougherty, WSJ

    President Barack Hussein Obama. Vice President Joe Biden. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Fifteen minutes before noon, and you have to say it out loud to believe it. When Obama was announced at the podium, the scene on the Mall beggared likeness.

In his remarks Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial, Obama himself sought to place this moment in the sweep of history, but more in the context of the challenges before the nation. "In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now," he said. "Our nation is at war. Our economy is in crisis. Millions of Americans are losing their jobs and their homes. But despite all of this - despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead - I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time." - Linda Feldman, the Christian Science Monitor

    It all happened quickly once the noon hour approached. Aretha sang, Biden swore, Yo Yo Ma played, and then ...

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom. - President Barack Hussein Obama

    I was alone in my room on December 13, 2000, when this all started, when the Supreme Court decided to unleash Bush, when the deal first started going down. I was alone in my room again more than eight years later when Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in, when the crowds in Washington cheered, when it all finally ended, and something different began in its place.

    I played my song at last.

Last modified on Tuesday, 20 January 2009 15:26