January 30, 2009: President Obama’s First Week in Office

THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY:

IN FOCUS: STATS

Pete Souza/The White House

President Obama in the Oval Office on Wednesday. More Photos >

In Focus: Stats

  • The Gallup Organization survey: 68 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s performance as the nation’s chief executive. – AP, 1-25-09
  • What History Foretells for Obama’s First Job Approval Rating: Barack Obama can expect to receive a rating above 50% when Gallup reports his first job approval rating this weekend. All elected presidents since Dwight Eisenhower began their terms in office with approval ratings above 50%, generally low disapproval ratings, and high “no opinion” levels. – Gallop.com, 1-22-09

THE HEADLINES….

President Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act

The Headlines…

  • After Jabs at Cheney, Biden Pursues an Activist Role: Vice President Follows Initial Gaffes by Diving Into Wide Range of Issues; Drawing Contrasts With Predecessor Vice President Joe Biden, in a bid to become an influential second-in-command, is striving to carve out meaty roles for himself quickly. – WSJ, 1-30-09
  • Obama Signs Equal-Pay Legislation: President Obama signed his first bill into law on Thursday, approving equal-pay legislation that he said would “send a clear message that making our economy work means making sure it works for everybody.” – NYT, 1-29-09
  • Obama’s busy, bold first 10 days in office could rival Roosevelt’s pace: Ever since Franklin D. Roosevelt passed 15 major bills in three months during his first term as president in the early 1930s, American presidents have been judged by their first 100 days in the Oval Office. – Canadian Press, 1-29-09
  • Republicans take a back seat: Lacking strong leadership and the political capital to oppose a popular president, the fractured GOP can only agree on one thing: This really isn’t their moment. As Republicans fight President Obama’s gargantuan economic plan, they have plenty of ideas. What they don’t have is a party-wide consensus: They can’t agree among themselves on the best alternative, or on whether government action is even needed to pull the economy from its nose dive. – LAT, 1-29-09
  • House OKs $819B stimulus bill with GOP opposition: In a swift victory for President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled House approved a historically huge $819 billion stimulus bill Wednesday night with spending increases and tax cuts at the heart of the young administration’s plan to revive a badly ailing economy. The vote was 244-188, with Republicans unanimous in opposition despite Obama’s frequent pleas for bipartisan support. – AP, 1-28-09

President Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act

Lilly Ledbetter hero

With the new law’s namesake, Lilly Ledbetter,
at his side, President Obama signed his first
piece of legislation — a powerful tool to fight
discrimination.

Learn more

President Obama with business leaders

  • White House Unbuttons Formal Dress Code: The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat. – NYT, 1-28-09
  • Obama open to compromise on $825B stimulus bill: On the eve of a key vote, President Barack Obama privately promised Republicans he stands ready to accept changes in the $825 billion economic stimulus legislation, invoked Ronald Reagan to rebut conservative critics and urged lawmakers to “put politics aside” in the interest of creating jobs. – AP, 1-27-09
  • Geithner is sworn in as treasury secretary: The nation has a new treasury secretary, and his name is Timothy Geithner. Geithner was quickly sworn in to office Monday night, becoming the nation’s 75th treasury secretary and one of the point men President Barack Obama will be counting on to help pull the country out of its economic slide. – AP, 1-26-09
  • Some global adversaries ready to give Obama chance: Already, there are signs that some of those foes were listening, sensing an opening for improved relations after eight combative years under President George W. Bush. Fidel Castro is said to like the new American leader, and North Korea and Iran both sounded open to new ideas to defuse nuclear-tinged tensions. – NY Daily News, 1-25-09
  • Democrats: Stimulus plan no quick fix for economy: The White House warned Sunday that the country could face a long and painful financial recovery, even with major government intervention to stimulate the economy and save financial institutions. “We’re off and running, but it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Vice President Joe Biden. – AP, 1-25-09
  • Obama breaks from Bush, avoids divisive stands: Barack Obama opened his presidency by breaking sharply from George W. Bush’s unpopular administration, but he mostly avoided divisive partisan and ideological stands. He focused instead on fixing the economy, repairing a battered world image and cleaning up government. – AP, 1-25-09
  • Pro-gun US Senate pick makes some NY pols unhappy: …Even before the governor took the podium Friday to introduce little-known upstate Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand as his pick, a Long Island congresswoman elected on a pledge to stem gun violence was telling reporters she would either challenge Gillibrand in the Democratic primary next year or find someone who would. – AP, 1-24-09
  • Obama reverses Bush abortion-funds policy: President Barack Obama on Friday struck down the Bush administration’s ban on giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information — an inflammatory policy that has bounced in and out of law for the past quarter-century. – AP, 1-24-09
  • In Selection Mess, Paterson Dug Hole Deeper: When Gov. David A. Paterson began consulting with his aides about picking a replacement for Hillary Rodham Clinton, they had one overriding message: First do no harm to yourself…. NYT, 1-23-09
  • Senate OKs several Obama nominees, waits on others: It’s nine down, six to go to fill President Barack Obama’s Cabinet. Yet, for all of the progress, his picks for attorney general and deputy defense secretary remain mired in questions over interrogation methods and ethics. – AP, 1-23-09
  • Clinton promises to bolster foreign aid programs: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised on Friday to strengthen U.S. foreign aid and development programs and told workers at the agency supervising those efforts they would be an equal partner in diplomacy. – Reuters, 1-23-09
  • Republicans agree stimulus to pass in February: U.S. congressional Republicans predicted on Friday that legislation to boost the sagging economy would pass by mid-February, but pressed President Barack Obama to support more tax cuts in the plan. – Reuters, 1-23-09
  • President Obama swiftly sets course on Day One: President Obama signed his first executive order today, concerning ethics within the executive office, accompanied by Vice President Biden. – Los Angeles Times, 1-22-09
  • On Day One, Obama Sets a New Tone: President Obama moved swiftly on Wednesday to impose new rules on government transparency and ethics, using his first full day in office to freeze the salaries of his senior aides, mandate new limits on lobbyists and demand that the government disclose more information. – NYT, 1-22-09
  • Senate panel approves Geithner for treasury post: The Senate Finance Committee has cleared the nomination of Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary despite unhappiness over his mistakes in paying his taxes. The committee approved the nomination on an 18-5 vote, sending it to the full Senate. President Barack Obama is hoping for quick approval so that the point man for the administration’s economic rescue effort can begin work. – AP, 1-22-09
  • Caroline Kennedy Drops Bid for Open Senate Seat: Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of a former president who whipped up excitement and controversy during her campaign for the New York Senate seat, withdrew from consideration Wednesday night… – WSJ, 1-22-09
  • Kennedy associate says decision was personal issue: Caroline Kennedy withdrew her Senate bid because of a personal matter unrelated to her ill uncle, rejecting the governor’s attempt to get her to reconsider, a person who worked closely with her said Thursday. Kennedy discussed withdrawing from the race with Gov. David Paterson on Wednesday, and Paterson asked her to reconsider for 24 hours, the person said. – AP, 1-22-09
  • Secretary of State Clinton Arrives at Foggy Bottom: Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived for her first day of work at the State Department Thursday, assuming the mantle of the nation’s chief diplomat and preparing to name a pair of renowned diplomats to serve as special emissaries to the Middle East and South Asia. – NYT, 1-22-09
  • President Obama retakes oath of office: In an effort to keep things on the up-and-up and ensure there was no debate, President Obama retook the oath Wednesday night, after he and Chief Justice John Roberts flubbed it earlier…. And that’s exactly what happened at 7:35 p.m. Wednesday night in the White House’s Map Room. When Roberts asked if Obama – who took this second oath sans Bible – was ready, the President reportedly replied: “I am, and we’re going to do it very slowly.”… – NY Daily News, 1-21-09
  • Obama moves to reshape US policy by closing Gitmo: President Barack Obama moved quickly Thursday to reshape U.S. national-security policy, ordering the Guantanamo Bay prison camp closed within a year, forbidding the harshest treatment of terror suspects and naming new envoys to the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan. “We have no time to lose,” he said at the State Department as he welcomed newly confirmed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to help him forge what he called “a new era of American leadership” in the world. – AP, 1-22-09
  • Obama to order Guantanamo closed: President Barack Obama will begin overhauling U.S. national security policy Thursday with orders to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, review military trials of terror suspects and end harsh interrogations, two government officials said. – From A Draft of Obama’s Executive Order to Close Guantanamo: “in view of significant concerns raised by these detentions, both within the United States and internationally, prompt and appropriate disposition of the individuals currently detained at Guantanamo and closure of the facility would further the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.” – AP, 1-22-09
  • Obama’s whirlwind first day: economy, war and more: In a first-day whirlwind, President Barack Obama showcased efforts to revive the economy on Wednesday, summoned top military officials to the White House to chart a new course in Iraq and eased into the daunting thicket of Middle East diplomacy. – AP, 1-22-09
  • Senate confirms Clinton as secretary of state: The Senate confirmed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state Wednesday as President Barack Obama moved to make his imprint on U.S. foreign policy, mobilizing a fresh team of veteran advisers and reaching out to world leaders. The Senate voted 94-2, with Republican Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana and Jim DeMint of South Carolina opposing. – AP, 1-22-09
  • President Obama’s First Day: President Obama reported to work at 8:35 a.m. on Wednesday, walking into the Oval Office for the first time as the nation’s chief executive. He read the note left behind by George W. Bush, which was sitting in a folder on top of the desk, with a note marked “44.” Mr. Obama was in the office alone for a brief time, aides said, starting his day after a late night celebrating and dancing at inaugural balls across Washington. So the new White House is officially opened for business, but it feels more like a start-up than the seat of government. – NYT, 1-21-09

POLITICAL QUOTES

President Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act

Lilly Ledbetter hero

With the new law’s namesake, Lilly Ledbetter,
at his side, President Obama signed his first
piece of legislation — a powerful tool to fight
discrimination.

Learn more

President Obama with business leaders

Meeting with business leaders

President Obama met with top business
leaders, and emphasized that most of the
funds in the Recovery Package will go to
create jobs in the private sector.
read the president's remarks

President Obama signs a Presidential Memorandum

From peril to progress

In his first two Presidential Memoranda,
President Obama took two bold steps on
the journey towards energy independence.
read the president's remarks

Weekly Address

Political Quotes

  • On Wednesday morning Obama went off script from the important business of the day and poked fun at local officials for canceling school because of icy conditions, saying: “My 7-year-old pointed out that you’d go outside for recess. You wouldn’t even stay indoors. So, I don’t know. We’re going to have to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town.” Later at the Pentagon he kept it up: “Aren’t you a little surprised that they canceled school for my kids?” – WaPo, 1-29-09
  • President Obama told Al Arabiya in his Interview as President: “My job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy….
    Sending George Mitchell to the Middle East is fulfilling my campaign promise that we’re not going to wait until the end of my administration to deal with Palestinian and Israeli peace, we’re going to start now. It may take a long time to do, but we’re going to do it now.” – WH Blog, 1-27-09
  • REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AFTER MEETING WITH HOUSE REPUBLICAN CAUCUS Ohio Clock Corridor, U.S. Capitol: Hello, everybody. We had a very constructive meeting with the House members, members of the Republican Caucus. I’m a little bit late for my Senate colleagues — former Senate colleagues.
    And the main message I have is that the statistics every day underscore the urgency of the economic situation. The American people expect action. They want us to put together a recovery package that puts people back to work, that creates investments that assure our long-term energy independence, an effective health care system, an education system that works; they want our infrastructure rebuilt, and they want it done wisely, so that we’re not wasting taxpayer money.
    As I explained to the Republican House Caucus, and I’ll explain to my former Senate colleagues, the recovery package that we have proposed and is moving its way through Congress is just one leg in a multi-legged stool. We’re still going to have to have much better financial regulation, we’ve got to get credit flowing again, we’re going to have to deal with the troubled assets that many banks are still carrying and that make the — that have locked up the credit system.
    We’re going to have to coordinate with other countries, because we now have a global problem. I am absolutely confident that we can deal with these issues, but the key right now is to make sure that we keep politics to a minimum. There are some legitimate philosophical differences with parts of my plan that the Republicans have, and I respect that. In some cases they may just not be as familiar with what’s in the package as I would like. I don’t expect a hundred percent agreement from my Republican colleagues, but I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people’s business right now. All right. – WH Blog, 1-27-09
  • Biden: We’ve Inherited A Real Mess: Face The Nation: VP Says Stimulus Plan Is Off and Running, But U.S. Faces Challenges On Pak-Afghan Front, Closing Gitmo: It is worse, quite frankly, than everyone thought it was, and it’s getting worse every day. There’s been no good news, and there’s no good news on the immediate horizon. The only good news is the president acted swiftly; he’s put together an economic stimulus package that we believe, and outsiders believe, will create 3 million to 4 million new jobs and set a new framework for the economy to develop on, a new foundation. And so we’re off and running, but it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”I don’t see myself as the ‘deputy president. I see myself as the president’s confidant. Hopefully I can help shape policy with him. … Hopefully I’m the last person in the room with every important decision he makes. Thus far, that’s how it’s worked. The agreement he and I have is that I would be available for every single major decision that he makes, in the room; I’d have all the paper, all the material, all the meetings – and, again, not for me to make decisions [but] for me to give the best advice that I can give. So that’s what I view my role to be: A confidant, an adviser, essentially the last guy in the room when he makes these critical decisions. It is harder now. I’m really happy to be part of a team. But what I have to think about now is, everything I say … reflects directly on the administration. And so I may have strongly-held views that the president may not have. But, yes, the bottom line, it’s harder! – CBS News, Transcript, 1-25-09
  • President Obama delivers Your Weekly Address: In his first weekly address since being sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, President Barack Obama discusses how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan will jump-start the economy. “This is not just a short-term program to boost employment. It’s one that will invest in our most important priorities like energy and education; health care and a new infrastructure that are necessary to keep us strong and competitive in the 21st century.” – WH Blog, 1-24-09
  • Clinton vows robust diplomacy as State Dept chief: “I believe with all of my heart that this is a new era for America…. This is going to be a challenging time and it will require 21st century tools and solutions to meet our problems and seize our opportunities. I’m going to be asking a lot of you. I want you to think outside the proverbial box. I want you to give me the best advice you can. I want you to understand there is nothing that I welcome more than a good debate and the kind of dialogue that will make us better. We cannot be our best if we don’t demand that from ourselves and each other…. We are responsible for two of the three legs. And we will make clear as we go forward that diplomacy and development are essential tools in achieving the long-term objectives of the United States…. At the heart of smart power are smart people, and you are those people. And you are the ones that we will count on and turn to for the advice and counsel, the expertise and experience to make good on the promises of this new administration.” – AP, 1-22-09

President Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act

Lilly Ledbetter hero

With the new law’s namesake, Lilly Ledbetter,
at his side, President Obama signed his first
piece of legislation — a powerful tool to fight
discrimination.

Learn more

President Obama with business leaders

Meeting with business leaders

President Obama met with top business
leaders, and emphasized that most of the
funds in the Recovery Package will go to
create jobs in the private sector.
read the president's remarks

President Obama signs a Presidential Memorandum

HISTORIANS’ COMMENTS

Historians’ Comments

  • Allan Lichtman “Analysis: Obama tries to keep political tone civil”: “I cannot remember any president coming in so determined to do all the little things to change the tone in Washington,” American University political scientist Allan Lichtman says. USA Today, 1-29-09
  • Bruce Buchanan “Analysis: Obama tries to keep political tone civil”: “Every one of them tries to set a tone that’s friendlier, more open, more inviting,” says University of Texas presidential historian Bruce Buchanan. “But people get past the kumbaya moments and they start arguing policy. And then the question is whether you can do it civilly.” – USA Today, 1-29-09
  • Julian Zelizer: “Obama’s busy, bold first 10 days in office could rival Roosevelt’s pace”: “It is a bold, aggressive start,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. “Obviously if you pass a bill of this size really within the first month of your presidency, along with five or six others ahead and a number of executive orders, it’s a good start in terms of matching Roosevelt’s pace,” Zelizer said… Zelizer says that Obama’s first days in office are likely setting the tone for his presidency. “Almost every indication suggests this is going to be a very energized and active president,” he said. Canadian Press, 1-29-09
  • Fred Greenstein: “Obama breaks from Bush, avoids divisive stands”: “It’s as if Superman stepped out of a phone booth and became Clark Kent,” said Fred Greenstein, a Princeton University professor emeritus of politics. “He’s beginning to put aside the rhetoric in favor of listing the policies and doing the checklist. He’s not going out of his way to show a lot of flash. It’s much more lets-get-down-to-work.” That said, there’s a limit to what he can immediately accomplish, Greenstein said, and “the really big things can’t be done on Day One, particularly if they are going to be done well.” – AP, 1-25-09
  • Peniel Joseph “Week of Symbolism, History in Washington”: “This is an enormous weight that has been lifted from the nation’s psyche. And it does not mean that racism is over, but the notion that there were still barriers for a black person or a person of color to ascend to the nation’s highest political post is now left behind us,” said Peniel Joseph, a professor of Afro-American studies at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and a guest on VOA’s Press Conference USA program.
    But Brandeis Professor Peneil Joseph said Mr. Obama’s success depends on his ability to turn around the weakened U.S. economy. “If the economy starts to show real promise in terms of new jobs being created that are connected to the president’s stimulus package, then he will be able to do a lot of what he wants to do in terms of health care, the environment, education and other aspects,” said Joseph. – VOA, 1-23-09
  • Gil Troy “President Obama the Liberal Nationalist”: Shrewdly, pragmatically, constructively, Obama wants to channel this energy into a badly needed sense of communal renewal. His campaign slogan was “Yes We Can,” not “Yes I Can.” He is continuing the initiative he began with his lyrical, extraordinary 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, trying to articulate a vision of liberal American nationalism that works for the 21st century. Obama’s repudiation in 2004 of the “red America” versus “blue America” division, his inaugural celebration of “our patchwork heritage” as a “strength not a weakness,” seeks to forge a new nationalist center that heals America’s wounds, and revives a sense of community…..
    In launching his administration, Obama has demonstrated that he just might govern as he speechifies, creating a “Yes We Can” muscular moderation that advances a substantive agenda in ways millions of Americans in the big, broad, pragmatic center can applaud. And during this hopeful moment, when the Obama presidency has only happy tomorrows ahead and no embarrassing yesterdays – yet – we should all join in hoping that this extraordinary politician can live up to the best of his rhetoric and the heady aspirations people are projecting on him, in the streets of Washington, and throughout the world. – HNN, 1-21-09

Pete Souza/White House, via Bloomberg News

President Obama in a meeting last week in the Oval Office, where his predecessor required a coat and tie at all times.

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January 20, 2009: The Barack Obama Inauguration

THE OBAMA PRESIDENCY: THE INAUGURATION

The Inauguration of President Barack Obama

IN FOCUS: INAUGURATION DAY STATS

OathDoug Mills/The New York Times

In Focus: Stats

  • Americans flooded D.C. for historic presidential inauguration: They came from across America, a buoyant and determined crowd of well over 1 million people, confronting numbing cold and logistical disarray to witness a profound moment in history. – NJ.com, 1-20-09
  • Crowds of 1 million or more test US capital: More than 1 million people crammed onto the National Mall and along the inauguration parade route Tuesday to celebrate the swearing-in of the nation’s first black president in what was one of the largest-ever gatherings in the nation’s capital. The Associated Press based its estimate on crowd photographs and comparisons with past events. – IHT, 1-20-09
  • INAUGURATION JOLTS INTERNET: President Obama’s inauguration sparked significant traffic jams – not only on Washington’s streets but in cyberspace as well, according to Web performance monitors. They reported slowdowns at the Web sites run by the White House and the U.S. Senate as well as at several online news outlets. – MSNBC, 1-20-09
  • Barack Obama inauguration: his worst speech: QUITE a day, but not much of speech unfortunately. Obama got where he is by speechifying, but this effort would not have won him many votes. It was his worst on a grand stage, though still better than most politicians could muster. The delivery, as ever, was first class, but the message was wasn’t clear enough and the language not insufficiently inspiring. – Telegraph UK, 1-20-09

THE HEADLINES….

WalkingPresident Obama and the First Lady walking on Pennsylvania Avenue during his inaugural parade. (Jae Hong/Associated Press)

The Headlines…

    President Barack Obama: New White House website

  • Obama Is Sworn In as the 44th President: Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday before a massive crowd reveling in a moment of historical significance, and called on Americans to confront together an economic crisis that he said was caused by “our collective failure to make hard choices.” – NYT, 1-20-09
  • Having a Ball: The Obamas have been zooming through their 10 official balls and are now running more than an hour ahead of schedule. The whole ball tour was supposed to end at 2:55 a.m., but they’re wrapping it up before 12:45. And who can blame them? By the fifth and sixth of these things, the First Couple was clearly operating on fumes. – NYT, 1-20-09
  • Obamas dance to ‘At Last’ at Neighborhood Ball: “At Last” may have been just what President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle were thinking Tuesday night as they glided through their first inaugural dance to the Etta James classic. – AP, 1-20-09
  • Obama takes power, urges unity vs. ‘raging storms’: Before a jubilant crowd of more than a million, Barack Hussein Obama claimed his place in history as America’s first black president, summoning a dispirited nation to unite in hope against the “gathering clouds and raging storms” of war and economic woe. – AP, 1-20-09
  • Sen. Kennedy OK after seizure at Obama’s luncheon: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, ill with a brain tumor, was hospitalized Tuesday but quickly reported feeling well after suffering a seizure at a post-inauguration luncheon for President Barack Obama. – AP, 1-20-09
  • Relationship gets official for Roberts and Obama: Chief Justice John Roberts swore in Barack Obama as president Tuesday in the first of what could be many important interactions for the two men of differing politics who rose quickly to power. The encounter was briefly awkward after Obama stepped on Roberts’ opening lines from the 35-word constitutionally prescribed oath of office. The chief justice then wandered into a verbal detour of his own. AP, 1-20-09
  • Thousands welcome the Bushes back to Texas: A large crowd in Waco greets former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, on Tuesday. George W. Bush basked in the warmth of an enthusiastic Texas crowd on Tuesday as thousands came from all across the state to welcome him home after eight years in the White House. – AP, 1-20-09
  • Gone to Texas: Bush returns to state he loves: Leaving the White House for the last time on Tuesday, President George W. Bush blew a kiss out the window of his presidential limousine, a gesture that capped an eight-year administration marked by two wars, recession and the biggest terrorist attack on U.S. soil. – AP, 1-20-09
  • Bush exits White House, goes home to Texas: After eight years in office, Bush flew home to Texas, where he was welcomed at a rally in Midland, before ending the day at his Crawford ranch. – Reuters, 1-20-09
  • Staff emotional as President George W. Bush passes reins to Barack Obama: President Bush took a final solo stroll on the South Lawn and later blew a departing kiss to the White House on Tuesday to end two terms marked by crisis at home and abroad. – NY Daily News, 1-20-09
  • Obama Renovates WhiteHouse.gov: Before Barack Obama even finished taking the oath of office, the White House site switched over to the Obama administration’s version. Macon Phillips, who identified himself as the director of new media for the White House, wrote a post describing the features of the new site. NYT, 1-20-09
  • A Day of New Beginnings for Michelle Obama and Her Daughters: On Inauguration Day, President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, became the first black family to move into the White House. – NYT, 1-20-09
  • Inaugural prayers aim for a more diverse America: Evangelical pastor Rick Warren, whose participation drew criticism from liberals and gay rights groups, directly invoked Jesus as expected in his invocation, but did so personally. “I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life,” he prayed. He also quoted from the most important prayer in Judaism, the Sh’ma, when he said, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One,” and he called God “the compassionate and merciful one,” a phrase from Muslim devotion. “His was as inclusive a prayer as an evangelical can give,” said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif. – AP, 1-20-09
  • Obama inauguration: George Bush – the man who was no longer president: 43rd president leaves note in the Resolute desk for successor — Bushes head to Midland, Texas after ceremony – Guardian, UK, 1-20-09
  • In Bipartisan Appeal, Obama Praises McCain and Powell: In a major bipartisan appeal on the eve of his inauguration, Barack Obama held dinners Monday evening for Republicans Colin Powell and John McCain, praising both to the skies and perhaps making a down payment on future political success. – NYT, Caucus Blog, 1-19-09

IN FOCUS: OBAMA’S INAUGURAL ADDRESS

Inaugural speech“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” President Obama said. (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

    Transcript
    MP3 Download

  • My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.
    I thank President Bush for his service to our nation…… as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
    Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.
    The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
    So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
    That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age….
    Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.
    On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
    On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.
    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 shortcuts 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….
    This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.
    Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
    For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.
    All this we can do. All this we will do….
    The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, hether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.
    Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end….
    And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.
    We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We’ll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan….
    And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, “Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”
    For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.
    And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace….
    As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.
    We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service: a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.
    And yet, at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
    For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies….
    Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old.
    These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.
    What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.
    This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
    This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
    This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall. And why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
    So let us mark this day in remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.
    In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by nine campfires on the shores of an icy river.
    The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.
    At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
    “Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.”
    America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
    Thank you. God bless you.
    And God bless the United States of America.

QUOTES

Wave, President Bush

Quotes

  • President Obama Inaugural Balls Comments: Today was your day. Today was a day that represented all your efforts, all your faith, all your confidence in what’s possible in America. They said it couldn’t be done. And you did it….
    There is something in the spirit of the American people that insists on recreating this country when we get a little bit off course. That’s what powered this election, it’s what’s given our team the kind of energy that has allowed us to overcome extraordinary obstacles and given me so much confidence that our better days are ahead…. That this is not the end, this is the beginning….
    When you look at the history of this campaign, what started out as an improbable journey, where nobody gave us a chance, was carried forward by, was inspired by, was driven by, was energized by young people all across America….
    I can’t tell you how many people have come up to Michelle and myself and said, ‘You know, I was kind of skeptical, but then my daughter, she wouldn’t budge, she just told me I needed to vote for Obama.’ Or, ‘Suddenly I saw my son, he was out volunteering and knocking on doors and traveling and getting involved like never before.’ And so new generations inspired previous generations, and that’s how change happens in America. And as this is broadcast all around the world. We know that young people everywhere are in the process of imagining something different than what has come before. Where there is war, they imagine peace. Where there is hunger, they imagine people being able to feed themselves. Where there is disease, they imagine a public health system that works for everybody. Where there is bigotry, they imagine togetherness. The future will be in your hands if you are able to sustain the kind of energy and focus that you showed on this campaign. I promise you that America will get stronger and more united, more prosperous, more secure — you are going to make it happen, and Michelle and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts….
    Every day that I’m in the White House, I’ll try to serve you as well as you serve America. We will write the next great chapter in America’s story. – NYT, 1-20-09
  • George W. Bush Homecoming Speech in Midland, TX: “I always felt it was important to tackle the tough issues today and not try to them on to future presidents, and future generations. I never took an opinion poll to tell me what to think. And I’m coming home with my head held high and a sense of accomplishment.
    There were some good days and there were some tough days but every day was an honor to be your president. I gave it my all. Listen. Sometimes what I did wasn’t popular, but that’s okay, I always did what I thought was right….
    Popularity is as fleeting as the Texas wind; character and conscious are as sturdy as our oaks.
    History will be the judge of my decisions, but when I walked out of the Oval Office this morning, I left with the same values that I took to Washington eight years ago. And when I get home tonight and look in the mirror, I’m not going to regret what I see — except maybe some gray hair….
    My dad is America’s only sky-diving former president and that’s a title he’s going to keep.”
    In the morning, he said, he would make his wife coffee, “skim” the newspaper, call some friends, read a book, feed the dogs, go fishing, take a walk and by that time it will be 8 in the morning. “That’s what happens when you’re a type A personality. I told Laura I was excited about her cooking again — kinda. She told me she was excited about me mowing the lawn and taking out the trash –- it’s my new domestic agenda.
    I’m the first former president to be able to share the post-presidency with both my parents.
    I want people to be able to understand what it was like in the Oval Office when I had to make some of the tough decisions that I was called upon to make. History tends to take a little time for people to remember what happened and to have an objective accounting of what took place and I’d like to be a part of making a real history of this administration come to life.” NYT, 1-20-09
Bushes and ObamasIn an inaugural tradition, the Bushes welcomed the Obamas to the White House for tea. Michelle Obama’s outfit was designed by Isabel Toledo. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)
  • Bush Says Decisions in Office Kept America Safe From Attack: President Bush says in his farewell address that he is “filled with gratitude,” and that the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama represents a “moment of hope and pride” for the country.
    Fellow citizens, for eight years, it has been my honor to serve as your president. The first decade of this new century has been a period of consequence, a time set apart.
    Tonight, with a thankful heart, I have asked for a final opportunity to share some thoughts on the journey we have traveled together and the future of our nation….
    Tonight, I am filled with gratitude to Vice President Cheney and members of the administration; to Laura, who brought joy to this house and love to my life; to our wonderful daughters, Barbara and Jenna; to my parents, whose examples have provided strength for a lifetime.
    And above all, I thank the American people for the trust you have given me. I thank you for the prayers that have lifted my spirits. And I thank you for the countless acts of courage, generosity and grace that I have witnessed these past eight years.
    This evening, my thoughts return to the first night I addressed you from this house, September 11, 2001. That morning, terrorists took nearly 3,000 lives in the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor….
    As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did. Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our nation. And I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe.
    Over the past seven years, a new Department of Homeland Security has been created. The military, the intelligence community, and the FBI have been transformed. Our nation is equipped with new tools to monitor the terrorists’ movements, freeze their finances, and break up their plots….
    There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions. But there can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil. This is a tribute to those who toil night and day to keep us safe — law enforcement officers, intelligence analysts, homeland security and diplomatic personnel, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.
    Our nation is blessed to have citizens who volunteer to defend us in this time of danger. I have cherished meeting these selfless patriots and their families. And America owes you a debt of gratitude. And to all our men and women in uniform listening tonight: There has been no higher honor than serving as your Commander-in-Chief….
    Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I’ve always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right. You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.
    The decades ahead will bring more hard choices for our country, and there are some guiding principles that should shape our course.
    While our nation is safer than it was seven years ago, the gravest threat to our people remains another terrorist attack. Our enemies are patient, and determined to strike again. America did nothing to seek or deserve this conflict. But we have been given solemn responsibilities, and we must meet them. We must resist complacency. We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard.
    ….In the 21st century, security and prosperity at home depend on the expansion of liberty abroad. If America does not lead the cause of freedom, that cause will not be led.
    As we address these challenges — and others we cannot foresee tonight — America must maintain our moral clarity. I’ve often spoken to you about good and evil, and this has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two of them there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense — and to advance the cause of peace.
    President Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” As I leave the house he occupied two centuries ago, I share that optimism. America is a young country, full of vitality, constantly growing and renewing itself. And even in the toughest times, we lift our eyes to the broad horizon ahead.
    I have confidence in the promise of America because I know the character of our people. This is a nation that inspires immigrants to risk everything for the dream of freedom. This is a nation where citizens show calm in times of danger, and compassion in the face of suffering. We see examples of America’s character all around us….
    In citizens like these, we see the best of our country – resilient and hopeful, caring and strong. These virtues give me an unshakable faith in America. We have faced danger and trial, and there’s more ahead. But with the courage of our people and confidence in our ideals, this great nation will never tire, never falter, and never fail.
    It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your President. There have been good days and tough days. But every day I have been inspired by the greatness of our country, and uplifted by the goodness of our people. I have been blessed to represent this nation we love. And I will always be honored to carry a title that means more to me than any other – citizen of the United States of America.
    And so, my fellow Americans, for the final time: Good night. May God bless this house and our next President. And may God bless you and our wonderful country. Thank you. – Fox News, 1-15-09
  • Cheney Mocks Biden, Defends Rumsfeld in ‘FOX News Sunday’ Interview: In one of his last interviews before leaving Washington, D.C., Vice President Cheney, a 40-year veteran of Washington politics, tried to straighten out a few misconceptions about his tenure and the way the executive and legislative branches are supposed to work.
    He also said that all the powers and responsibilities of the executive branch are laid out in Article I of the Constitution. Well, they’re not. Article I of the Constitution is the one on the legislative branch. Joe’s been chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a member of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate for 36 years, teaches constitutional law back in Delaware, and can’t keep straight which article of the Constitution provides for the legislature and which provides for the executive. So I think I’d write that off as campaign rhetoric. I don’t take it seriously.
    If he wants to diminish the office of the vice president, that’s obviously his cal. President-elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president and apparently, from the way they’re talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I have had during my time….
    The president of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use and be authorized to use in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States. He could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen.
    He doesn’t have to check with anybody. He doesn’t have to call the Congress. He doesn’t have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in.
    I did disagree with the decision. The president doesn’t always take my advice.
    We’ve been here for eight years now, eventually you wear out your welcome in this business but I’m very comfortable with where we are and what we’ve achieved substantively. And frankly I would not want to be one of those guys who spends all his times reading the polls. I think people like that shouldn’t serve in these jobs. – Fox News, 1-21-09

HISTORIANS’ COMMENTS

(Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Historians’ Comments

  • Julian Zelizer “Obama speech draws on past inaugurations”: “I think the message he wanted to convey was to give a sober, serious, laundry-list, speech. The point was the campaign is over and it’s time to work,” Princeton University presidential historian Julian Zelizer said.
    “He spoke about trying to find which government programs worked and which didn’t, to overcome old divisions,” he said, noting Obama’s use of a biblical line from Corinthians to urge the nation “to set aside childish things”.
    “If this turns into an FDR-like Hundred Days, I think the overall tenor of the address will be what we discuss rather than one line or another,” Zelizer added. – The Age, Australia, 1-20-09
  • Timothy Garton Ash “Obama Promises the World a Renewed America “: “We have entered a period of historical transition in which the United States will become first among equals, rather than simply top dog, hyperpower and unquestioned hegemon,” said Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European studies at Oxford. “But for Europeans, it may be a case of being careful what you wish for, because the Obama administration is likely to say, ‘Good, then put your money where your mouth is, and in the first place, put more troops in Afghanistan.'” – NYT, 1-20-09
  • Julian Zelizer “A fitting speech for a time of a crisis”: And for Princeton professor Julian Zelizer, one line particularly stood out: “One of the most important lines was ‘What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them.’ If any of our recent presidents had said this, the line would quickly be forgotten, more false promises by the new kid in town,” Zelizer says. “But this time it seems different. Never has there been a leader whose presidency in itself is a sign that the possibility of change is real in American politics.” – First Post, UK, 1-20-09
  • Historians Offer Post-Speech Analysis: Video Online – PBS Newshour, 1-20-09
  • ELLEN FITZPATRICK, University of New Hampshire “Obama Claims Presidency, Cites Challenges Ahead”: The suddenness of it I think is striking in one sense, and yet one could argue that it took our entire history to get us to the place that we are today, that is, we crossed the threshold of American history today. This was truly a historic moment in electing and inaugurating our first African-American president. And I think the day was very rich in history. And the people on the mall came because they were conscious of that and moved by it. You could feel it and see it in the crowd.
    I think it’s actually — I dissent a little bit, I think, from the sentiment that’s shaping up and to say that I think it was an extraordinarily powerful speech. And the pageantry and that element that Richard just mentioned was surely there, but embedded in it was a critique that we have strayed far from our founding. He asked us to choose our better history, and it was an unvarnished view of American history that he offered. There was that phrase, “We have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, but we’ve triumphed over these tragedies and the hatred of our past.” And so, in that sense, he was seizing the historic occasion of his inauguration and using it as a way to call Americans back to their origins. And there was a critique here of where we’ve been. He said, “We don’t have to choose between our safety and our ideals.” That, to me, was a reference to the abrogation, or so he would argue, I would say, from those ideals through the war on terror. So it was a very powerful cry to remake America by drawing on our fundamental historical values.
    Well, I think in some ways that it was somber in the way these speeches tend to be. I think that, in a sense, as an African-American, he writes in his biography about remaking himself, by going back to the well of the past, that he’s called America back to the well of its own past. And I think in evoking segregation, the civil war and the tragedies of America’s racial history, in a sense, as an African-American, he is singularly well-placed to be mindful that history is full of tragedy. He’ll be the least surprised, I suspect, of any president about the tragedies that may unfold under his watch. – PBS Newshour, 1-20-09
  • PENIEL JOSEPH, Brandeis University “Obama Claims Presidency, Cites Challenges Ahead”: Well, in terms of historically, there’s very few days that actually transform the aesthetics of our democracy. The memory that this day invokes the most is probably the march on Washington, August 28, 1963. Forty-five years and five months ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., came to the Lincoln Memorial with really an expansive vision of American democracy. In that speech, King talked about the previous 100 years, especially the civil war, slavery. In this speech, the president-elect really — or the president really elegantly evoked race. He didn’t make race the central point of his speech, but he acknowledged the notion of slavery, the notion of Jim Crow segregation, and the notion that his father actually couldn’t have been seated at a restaurant 45 years ago.
    Well, three speeches come to mind. One, FDR’s first inauguration in 1933, where he really had an expansive critique of capitalism sort of run amok. In 1941, FDR has a speech where he talks about democracy and uses the word democracy about two dozen times in his inaugural address and basically makes the argument that democracy will not die because the spirit and faith of American people won’t let it die. And the final one is John F. Kennedy, Kennedy’s speech about a new generation of Americans and a new generation taking the leadership. Obama’s speech really evokes all of that, but the twist is really the iconography. I think one of the reasons why some of the commentators are saying that the speech was only good and not great is because the pageantry, like Richard talked about and Ellen talked about, is really overwhelming all of us. But when you really read the speech — and I’m not sure this crowd got the substantive nature of this speech — the speech substantively matches the overwhelming symbolism of the day.
    Well, I agree. I concur. I think that this speech really links the notion of race in a democracy in an expansive way. Historically, race has been a paradoxical part of American democracy. In this speech, we crossed the Rubicon, so to speak, as a nation, not turning the page on racism, but turning the page on really a tragic racial past. And it makes an argument that race actually is a strength of the democracy, rather than a weakness. – PBS Newshour, 1-20-09
  • RICHARD BROOKHISER, National Review “Obama Claims Presidency, Cites Challenges Ahead”: Well, no, you can’t, but I was struck today by the kind of pageant of confirmation that this whole day was. And there have been some of those in the American past, where people sort of collectively get together and say, “Yes, we like this. This is good.” Washington’s First Inaugural was like that. The government was new. The Constitution was new. The great war hero was coming back to lead it. You know, he went from Mount Vernon to New York. It was like a six-day triumphal progress. And then the numbers were much smaller, but in terms of percentage of population, it was maybe equal or even greater to the turnout we had today. But it was just like a collective embracing of the moment and saying, “We’re happy to be here.” And I got a feeling of that watching this day as it unfolded.
    Well, it was, but, you know, history always gives people surprises. Now, eight years ago, George W. Bush was coming in, and he did not imagine he was going to be fighting two wars. I mean, no one would have. And there was a foreign policy component of this speech. He did mention that. He made the points that you touched on. He also addressed our enemies and said, “We will defeat you.” But, you know, the enemies will have the freedom of action, also. And they will try and pick and choose their battles. And now all those phone calls are coming to our new president, many of which we will never hear about, but, you know, the killers are out there. They’re still after us. Now there’s a new commander- in-chief who will have to deal with them.
    Well, you know, we have a sense of where he would like to go, and now the work begins. And it was a very, I think, kind of an ambitious, if open-ended sort of a vision, but, you know, now there’s — now the follow-up will come. – PBS Newshour, 1-20-09
  • Gil Troy “Religious Figures, Kennedy, Oprah Nab Hot Inauguration Seats Obama Families Seen Alongside Politicians, Celebs at the Hotly Anticipated Event “: “The simple fact that they give a ticket to one person and not others … becomes tremendously important,” said Gil Troy, professor of history at McGill University in Montreal, and a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “You are setting up a historic tableau. … Each one of them [the guests] is carrying a different part of the narrative, not just your personal narrative but being weaved into the political narrative of United States history.”…
    “It needs to be used carefully and effectively so that you can turn all this symbolic hour into real political opportunity and power,” Troy said. “The inauguration has to be an opportunity of looking forward to starting the presidency.” – ABC News, 1-20-09
  • Nikki Brown “A Day of New Beginnings for Michelle Obama and Her Daughters”: “A part of what this family is going to do is to show that families of color are not so different,” said Nikki Brown, an assistant professor of history at the University of New Orleans. “That’s what I see, when I see them on TV: a working father, a working mother, a grandmother that cares for the babies, children that are doing well in school,” Ms. Brown said. “That’s a narrative that the country is still trying to create a language for, normal families of color.” – NYT, 1-20-09
Barack and Michelle Obama danced to Beyoncé Knowles singing “At Last.” (Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times)

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance at the Commander in Chief Inaugural Ball at the National Building Museum in Washington, Tuesday. AP/Charles DharapakDancing queen: President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance at the Commander in Chief Inaugural Ball at the National Building Museum in Washington, Tuesday. AP/Charles Dharapak

November 10, 2008: The Obama Transition & Historians Weigh in on the Moment

POLITICS & PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION WATCH:

Barack Obama before his news conference on Friday. (Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times)

Stats:

  • A Breakdown of the Obama Vote:
    • 66 percent of voters under age 30.
    • 66 percent of Hispanic voters.
    • 68 percent of first-time voters.
    • 95 percent of Black voters.
  • A timeline of the Obama campaign – Newsday
  • Get to know the Obamas: Bios of Barack, Michelle, Malia and Sasha – Newsday

The Headlines…

    President-Elect Barack Obama Transition office: http://change.gov/

  • Obama Team Weighs What to Take On First – NYT, 11-9-08
  • Economy won’t stop Obama’s priorities, aides say – AP, 11-9-08
  • Obama already holds bully pulpit He’s moving fast to build his governing team, but wants to avoid endorsing the policies of President Bush, whom he visits Monday. – Christian Sciene Monitor, 11-9-08
  • Obama to use executive orders for immediate impact: President-elect Obama plans to use his executive powers to make an immediate impact when he takes office, perhaps reversing Bush administration policies on stem cell research and domestic drilling for oil and natural gas. – AP, 11-9-08
  • Transition, too, for Michelle Obama to first lady – AP, 11-9-08
  • Quotes by clergy members about Obama’s election – AP, 11-9-08
  • Obama likely to tap fresh faces, old hands – San Fransico Chronicle, 11-8-08
  • Like Lincoln and FDR, Obama faces nation in crisis – AP, 11-8-08
  • Palin Calls Criticism by McCain Aides ‘Cruel and Mean-Spirited’ – AP, 11-8-08
  • Obama, in His New Role as President-Elect, Calls for Stimulus Package – 11-7-08
  • President-elect Obama assembled his economic team Friday and soberly told the nation that strong action is needed to confront “the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime.” In his first news conference since being elected Tuesday, Obama called on Congress to extend unemployment benefits and pass a stimulus bill. But his more ambitious remedies, he said, must wait until he takes office Jan. 20. – AP, 11-7-08
  • Byrd will voluntarily give up chairmanship – AP, 11-7-08
  • Live Blogging the Obama News Conference – NYT, The Caucus, 11-7-08
  • Obama to center stage, promises action on economy: Inheriting an economy in peril, President-elect Obama warned on Friday that the nation faces the challenge of a lifetime and pledged he would act urgently to help Americans devastated by lost jobs, disappearing savings and homes seized in foreclosure. But the man who promised change cautioned against hopes of quick solutions. AP, 11-7-08

Political Quotes

  • John Podesta on Fox News Sunday: “Across the board, whether it’s national security; the economy; the senior leadership that will manage healthcare, energy, and the environment, [Obama] intends to move very quickly.” – Fox News, 11-9-08
  • Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urges GOP to move beyond ideology: The governor told CNN’s John King that Republicans should not “always just say, ‘This is spending. We can’t do that.’ No, don’t get stuck with that. We have heard that dialogue. Let’s move on.” Schwarzenegger says it is important for his party to regroup and support spending on programs Americans want. – “I think the important thing for the Republican Party is now to also look at other issues that are very important for this country and not to get stuck in ideology,” the governor said in an interview broadcast on CNN this morning. “Let’s go and talk about healthcare reform. Let’s go and . . . fund programs if they’re necessary programs and not get stuck just on the fiscal responsibility.”….
    They should not “always just say, ‘This is spending. We can’t do that.’ No, don’t get stuck with that. We have heard that dialogue. Let’s move on.”…
    “I was touched by it,” he said. “Democrats and Republicans should do everything they can to help this man and his administration to be successful.” – LA Times, 11-9-08
  • Obama Apologizes for ‘Seances’ Remark: “President-elect Barack Obama called Nancy Reagan today to apologize for the careless and off-handed remark he made during today’s press conference. The President-elect expressed his admiration and affection for Mrs. Reagan that so many Americans share and they had a warm conversation,” said Stephanie Cutter, transition team spokeswoman.”In terms of speaking to former presidents, I’ve spoken to all of them that are living,” Mr. Obama said, before zeroing in on that fact that he had been asked whether he had spoken to living people. “Obviously, President Clinton — I didn’t want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any séances.” – NYT, The Caucus, 11-7-08
  • President-Elect Barack Obama’s First News Conference: Transcript
    We are facing the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime, and we’re going to have to act swiftly to resolve it….. A new president can have an enormous impact. I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead.
    Immediately after I become president, I will confront this economic challenge head-on by taking all necessary steps to ease the credit crisis, help hardworking families, and restore growth and prosperity. Some of the choices that we’re going to make are going to be difficult. It is not going to be quick. It’s not going to be easy for us to dig ourselves out of the hole that we are in.” But he said he was confident the country could do it. I think that the plan that we’ve put forward is the right one, but obviously over the next several weeks and months, we’re going to be continuing to take a look at the data and see what’s taking place in the economy as a whole.
  • Robert Byrd “Byrd will voluntarily give up chairmanship”:
    To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. Those Biblical words from Ecclesiastes 3:1 express my feelings about this particular time in my life…. I have been privileged to be a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee for 50 years and to have chaired the committee for ten years, during a time of enormous change in our great country, both culturally and politically. I have learned that nothing is quite so permanent as change. It is simply a part of living and should not be feared.

Historians’ Comments

  • Michael Beschloss: Presidential Historian: President Obama will face critical early decisions: Obama will quickly have to decide if he’s going to tackle the economy with a single-minded focus or puruse the agenda he and the Democrats laid out during the campaign, Beschloss said.
    “I can’t tell you what way he’ll go,” said Beschloss,recently named NBC News’ presidential historian.”In one year we will know the answer.”
    Beschloss said the greatest presidents made decisions they knew would be unpopular, citing George Washington’s decision to sign a treaty with Great Britain shortly after the Revolutionary War and Abraham Lincoln’s siging of the Emancipation Proclamation at a time he faced a tough re-election challenge. – The Jersey Journal, 11-9-08
  • Allan J. Lichtman “Americans will be looking to Obama to transform their country”: “I think the potential for Obama to be a transformative president is very great,” said Allan J. Lichtman of American University, author of several books on presidential history…. “Strike when you still have the mandate,” Lichtman said, citing Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. “Think big. Experiment. Don’t govern from the middle.”… “I think it’s riskier to opt for the middle of the road,” Lichtman said. “We remember … the bold presidents.” – Kansas City Star, 11-9-08
  • Gil Troy “Americans will be looking to Obama to transform their country”: “The crisis increases the chance for a transformative presidency,” said author and presidential historian Gil Troy….
    Troy: “Working against him are inexperience, a potentially arrogant Democratic Congress, and a series of foreign and domestic challenges that could crush him.” Kansas City Star, 11-9-08
  • John Baick “Obama’s campaign inspires U.S., but how long will it last?”: “Will they stay involved? Become town councilmen? Join their school boards? That will be the test,” said history Professor John Baick of Western New England College. “That happened with Kennedy. If it happens again, then you have a real movement. If not, you probably don’t.”…
    Historian Baick says the young people who voted for President Kennedy made a difference because they stuck around. They became part of the “political culture.” “We did not see that with either President Bush or President Clinton,” he said. But, Baick said, the Obama campaign already has made progress by directly communicating with this generation. “He has created, in 20 months, a new generation of networked and politically active people,” Baick said. “It will be normal for them to be involved in politics. They are getting e-mails and text messages from Barack Obama. That’s their normal.” – Arizona Republic, 11-9-08
  • Douglas Brinkley, the best-selling author and professor of history at Rice University “Historians, too, call Obama victory ‘monumental'”: “Monumental … a major shift in the zeitgeist of our times.”…
    Brinkley, the historian who edited the private White House diaries of Ronald Reagan, agrees that Tuesday’s vote marks “the beginning of a new era” in American politics not seen since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1932, or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in 1964. With Obama’s lopsided victory, and the wave that swept more Democrats into both houses of Congress, “a chapter has been closed on the Reagan era, meaning the days of rolling back the Great Society are over,” he says. “A new kind of progressivism will now be taking root.” “A Great Society ‘light,”‘ Brinkley postulates. “It won’t be quite as ambitious and sweeping as Lyndon Johnson’s, but it will probably focus on one or two big things, such as universal health care and major incentives for ‘green’ business.” — USA Today, 11-9-08
  • Joan Hoff, a former president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency in New York City “Historians, too, call Obama victory ‘monumental'”: “I can’t think of another election where the issues were two wars and a crashed economy. There just isn’t any historical precedent for this.”….
    In a globalized world with many newly emerging powers, “We may have to downsize our estimation of ourselves,” Hoff says, “and along with it goes a downsizing of our economic and military power.” That would mean the end of a “Cold Warrior” mentality that has existed in the White House since Harry Truman. Will Americans grasp such thinking? Will other nations? Ultimately, how Obama handles this will be, Hoff says, “what will really make this election unprecedented.” — USA Today, 11-9-08
  • James McPherson, the renowned author and professor emeritus of history at Princeton University “Historians, too, call Obama victory ‘monumental'”: “It’s an historic turning point … an exclamation point of major proportions to the civil rights movement that goes back to the 1950s.”…
    “Whether an Obama victory means that it will close the book on the Reagan era — I think it may be true, but I think it’s too soon to conclude that,” McPherson says. — USA Today, 11-9-08
  • Doris Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, historian and political commentator: “The racial milestone will be much larger than we’ve even imagined in the course of these last couple of years,” says Doris Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, historian and political commentator. Compared with other milestones that students of history read in American textbooks — Booker T. Washington causing a national uproar for having lunch at the White House with Teddy Roosevelt, Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial after being barred from Constitutional Hall, Joe Louis knocking out Nazi Germany’s Max Schmeling for the heavyweight boxing crown — the concept of an African-American holding the nation’s highest office “is just enormous,” she says. –
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin “Harsh Words About Obama? Never Mind Now “: The presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said she was hard-pressed to find a similar moment when the tone had changed so drastically, and so quickly, among so many people of such prominence. “I don’t think that’s happened very often,” Ms. Goodwin said. “The best answer I can give you is they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, and they recognize how the country saw this election, and how people feel that they’re living in a time of great historic moment.” – NYT, 11-9-08
  • Catherine Allegor “Michelle Obama blazes a new trail”: “This is an incredible rebirth of her life,” said Catherine Allegor, a first ladies expert and a history professor at California’s Claremont McKenna College. “I think she’s only limited to her imagination.” “If she said, ‘I’m going to fight against gender inequality,’ some people wouldn’t like that,” Allegor said. “So she says ‘working mothers’ and everyone’s OK with it.” Chicago Tribune, 11-9-08
  • John Sides “On Historic Day, Political Scientists Take the Long View”: “The models were correct in that they predicted an Obama victory, a Democratic victory, and that’s what resulted. So in that sense, given the state of the economy, given the popularity of the incumbent, you’d expect a Democrat to win,” said John Sides, a professor of political science at George Washington University. For all the talk about Hillary Clinton’s supporters shifting over to John McCain, for example, or McCain losing support within the Republican Party, both candidates ended up with roughly equal support within their parties. “We live in an era of very strong party loyalty, and this election is really no different,” Sides said. – Inside Higher Ed, 11-5-08
  • Taylor Branch disputes NYT’s rosy view of Obama’s election: “It’s a great milestone,” but it’s not an “explicit achievement or accomplishment in race relations in the lives of everyday Americans….I hope we don’t get into a tailspin where everyone calls this the racial promised land.”…”I am thrilled to tears. The resonance of it to me is enormous.” – NPR, 11-5-08
  • Manning Marable “Obama Sails To Sweeping, Historic Victory”: “It’s possible that he will be the reverse Reagan,” says Columbia University historian Manning Marable. Like Reagan, Marable says, Obama is a charismatic leader whose appeal transcends partisan politics. He says Obama has built his support on a “three-legged stool” made up of African-Americans, Hispanics and young voters of all races. – NPR, 11-5-08
  • Richard Norton Smith and Peniel Joseph Historians Answered Your Questions on Obama’s Win, 2008 Campaign:
    Sen. Barack Obama will become the country’s first black leader after a campaign season that broke records and saw female candidates break new ground. Historians Richard Norton Smith and Peniel Joseph answered your questions on this historic election. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08

Post Election News & Analysis: The Obama Presidency

POLITICS & PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION WATCH:

Election Result Snapshot:

    Google News Results

  • Barack Obama: 364, 53% 64,643,455
  • John McCain: 162, 46% 56,903,815 — 47%
  • Barr 0% 494,102 Nader (I) 1% 667,416
  • Nader 1% 667,416
  • Senate: 35 seats contested
    Democrats: 57, 18 won, +6
    Republicans: 40, 14 won
  • House: 435 seats contested
    Democrats: 254, +20
    Republicans: 173

Doug Mills/The New York Times

President-elect Barack Obama, who went for a morning workout on Thursday in Chicago, plans a news conference on Friday.

The Headlines…

  • Obama speaks with 9 world leaders: President-elect Obama accepted congratulations from nine presidents and prime ministers Thursday, returning calls from world leaders who reached out after his presidential victory. – AP, 11-7-08
  • Palin lays low as interview requests pile up: Gov. Sarah Palin hadn’t been back home in Alaska for a full day and her staff had begun fielding requests Thursday for postelection interviews, including from Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey, Larry King and others. AP, 11-7-08
  • Obama’s choice of Emanuel shows switch in tone: Barack Obama is signaling a shift in tactics and temperament as he moves from candidate to president-elect, picking sharp-elbowed Washington insiders for top posts. – AP, 11-6-08
  • Palin gone, anything but forgotten: GOP vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin returned home in defeat to Wasilla, Alaska, on Wednesday night – leaving behind eyebrow-raising tales about towel-clad appearances and internal campaign feuds. – San Francisco Chronicle, 11-6-08
  • Among Democrats’ Leadership Questions: What to Do With Lieberman?: As election returns in Oregon gave Democrats a sixth new seat in the Senate, Democratic leaders on Thursday began to confront some of the crucial personnel questions that would shape the next Congress, including the fate of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut after his ardent backing of Senator John McCain for president. – NYT, 11-6-08
  • Tough Election Leaves GOP In Dire Straits: Politico: Republican Party Seen As Increasingly Out-Dated, In Its Worst Shape Since Rise Of The Conservative Coalition – Politico, 11-6-08
  • Rahm Emanuel Accepts Chief of Staff Post: President-elect Barack Obama said Thursday afternoon that he selected Representative Rahm Emanuel, a fierce and consummate navigator of the capital’s political terrain, as his chief of staff because he has “deep insights into the challenging economic issues that will be front and center for our administration.” – NYT, 11-6-08
  • Bush Wants to Ensure a Smooth Transfer to Obama: President Bush and Barack Obama on Monday will hold their first substantive talks about the nation’s daunting priorities as the transition to a Democratic administration accelerates. Bush, soon to return to Texas after two terms in office, ordered employees on Thursday to ensure a smooth transfer of power to Obama. The transition is a delicate dance in which the White House keeps the president-elect in the loop, and even solicits his input, but the decisions remain solely the president’s. – AP, 11-6-08
  • Breaking Down Obama’s Cabinet Contenders As Obama Prepares To Fill Key Cabinet Roles, CBSNews.com Looks At The Names Generating The Most Buzz In Washington – CBS News, 11-6-08
  • Obama Unveils Presidential Transition Team As Congratulations Pour In, President-Elect Begins Process To Build Cabinet To Help Deal With Challenges At Home And Abroad: President-elect Barack Obama Wednesday announced that his presidential transition team will be led by John Podesta, who served as chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, campaign advisor Valerie Jarrett, and Pete Rouse, who has been Obama’s chief of staff in the Senate. CBS/AP, 11-5-08
  • Obama picks Clinton alum Emanuel chief of WH staff: President-elect Barack Obama pivoted quickly to begin filling out his new administration on Wednesday, selecting hard-charging Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff while aides stepped up the pace of transition work that had been cloaked in pre-election secrecy. – AP, 11-5-08
  • Obama aims for smooth transition: Democrat Barack Obama put aside the victory celebrations on Wednesday and began crafting a White House team to help him lead a country mired in a deep economic crisis and two lingering … Reuters, 11-5-08
  • Great expectations: Obama will have to deliver: Over and over, Barack Obama told voters if they stuck with him “we will change this country and change the world.” They did, and now their expectations for him to deliver are firmly planted on his shoulders. Many supporters greeted his victory with euphoria. – AP, 11-5-08
  • McCain starts mapping out a new role in the Senate: Before resting from the grueling presidential race, John McCain began discussing with senior aides what role he will play in the Senate now that he has promised to work with the man who defeated him for president. One obvious focus will be the war in Iraq. After two years spent more on the campaign than in the Senate, McCain will return as the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee. – AP, 11-5-08
  • Minnesota Senate race heads into automatic recount: A slugfest for nearly two years, Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race headed into a new round Wednesday as the campaigns girded for an automatic statewide recount to determine whether Republican Sen. Norm Coleman’s bare lead over Democratic challenger Al Franken would stand. – AP, 11-5-08
  • Daley celebrates a peaceful rally GRANT PARK | ‘It was a homecoming … a baptism’ – Chicago Sun-Times, 11-6-08
  • World reaction to Obama victory: Elation – LA Times, 11-6-08

With Mrs. Laura Bush, the Vice President and Mrs. Cheney and Cabinet secretaries looking on, President George W. Bush addresses his staff Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008, on the South Lawn of the White House. Said the President, "As we head into this final stretch, I ask you to remain focused on the goals ahead. I will be honored to stand with you at the finish line." White House photo by Eric Draper

With Mrs. Laura Bush, the Vice President and Mrs. Cheney and Cabinet secretaries looking on, President George W. Bush addresses his staff Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008, on the South Lawn of the White House. Said the President, “As we head into this final stretch, I ask you to remain focused on the goals ahead. I will be honored to stand with you at the finish line.” White House photo by Eric Draper

Political Quotes

  • President-Elect Barack Obama: I announce this appointment first because the chief of staff is central to the ability of a president and administration to accomplish an agenda. And no one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel.
    Michelle and I look forward to meeting with President Bush and the First Lady on Monday to begin the process of a smooth, effective transition. I thank him for reaching out in the spirit of bipartisanship.”
  • Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff, Obama Administration: Now is a time for unity. I will do everything in my power to help you stitch together the frayed fabric of our politics, and help summon Americans of both parties to unite in common purpose….
    Like the record amount of voters who cast their ballot over the last month, I want to do everything I can to help deliver the change America needs. We have work to do, and Tuesday Americans sent Washington a clear message — get the job done.
    I want to say a special word about my Republican colleagues, who serve with dignity, decency and a deep sense of patriotism. We often disagree, but I respect their motives. Now is a time for unity, and Mr. President-elect, I will do everything in my power to help you stitch together the frayed fabric of our politics, and help summon Americans of both parties to unite in common purpose.
  • Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour: With the selection of Rahm Emanuel [as White House Chief of Staff] I think Sen. Obama is sending a strong signal of partisanship. He’s a hardball player if there ever was one. That doesn’t say much to me about this ‘post-partisan’ presidency.’
  • The House minority leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, said in a statement: This is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil and govern from the center.
  • President George W. Bush: Earlier this year, I promised that I would sprint to the finish. I am keeping that promise, and I know I have given some of you a good workout along the way. As we head into this final stretch, I ask you to remain focused on the goals ahead. I will be honored to stand with you at the finish line.
    We face economic challenges that will not pause to let a new president settle in. This will also be America’s first wartime transition in four decades.

Historians’ Comments

  • David Greenberg “Landslide? Not Exactly: While 2008 represents an unmistakable repudiation of contemporary conservatism, Obama didn’t redraw the electoral map.
    The advent of America’s first black president inexorably calls forth the word historic. Uttered so frequently last evening, as it will be in the days ahead, the adjective would have been drained of meaning but for the palpable momentousness of Barack Obama’s election. Gone was the pretense of post-racialism; revealed was liberal America’s pride in the often-unsung progress toward equality and toleration achieved in the civil rights movement’s aftermath…. TheDailyBeast.com, 11-5-08
  • Alonzo Hamby “President-Elect and Champion Campaigner Obama”:
    ….Yet I am struck that so many different people see different Obamas….
    From my point of view, the transformation of the Daley organization into a 60s Popular Front, with room for Weathermen bombers, old Black Panthers, and Israel-haters are revelatory of the moral confusion of post-Vietnam American liberalism.
    Who IS the real BHO? I’m damned if I know, but I feel that I can only take him and his record at face value. No one can deny, however, that he ran a helluva of a campaign and is as charismatic a figure as we’ve seen in American politics for a long time. Let’s hope for the best. HNN, POTUS Blog, 11-5-08
  • Gil Troy “The Obama-McCain “Return Night” Reconciliation: Lasting Hope or Fleeting Moment?”:
    On Thursday, in Georgetown, Delaware, the losing and winning candidates from the various contests around that state will assemble for Return Day. In a ritual tracing its roots to 1791, voters and politicians will hear the official electoral returns and make nice, no matter how bitter their campaigns may have been. In addition to parading together down the main street in antique automobiles, the rivals will bury a ceremonial tomahawk, quite literally burying the hatchet. Late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, President-elect Barack Obama and Senator John McCain mounted their own version of this reconciliation ritual, offering a magnificent display of the grace, civility, and patriotism that could heal America, even during these painful times. – HNN, 11-5-08
  • Richard Norton Smith and Peniel Joseph Historians Answered Your Questions on Obama’s Win, 2008 Campaign:
    Sen. Barack Obama will become the country’s first black leader after a campaign season that broke records and saw female candidates break new ground. Historians Richard Norton Smith and Peniel Joseph answered your questions on this historic election. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • ELLEN FITZPATRICK, University of New Hampshire “An ‘evolution’ of U.S. democracy”:
    I think it’s an incredible moment in the history of this country, one of the more important moments we have seen ever.
    And that is because this election has resolved a moral contradiction that runs through the interstices of our history from its very founding.
    The founders were not able to deal with the issue of slavery and created a republic based on a set of values and beliefs that were denied to African-Americans through more than two centuries.
    And through segregation, after the Civil War, it was followed by segregation, the Jim Crow laws. And that moment — I think we’ve put a punctuation mark on a very important and rather shameful chapter….
    PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • PENIEL JOSEPH, Brandeis University “An ‘evolution’ of U.S. democracy”:
    Well, certainly I think we all agree at this roundtable that this election shows the evolution of American democracy. As historians, we realize that that evolution is not always a linear progression.
    So during the reconstruction era, for instance, we had the first generation of black elected officials, and then that time ended because of Jim Crow segregation. The civil rights movement became a second reconstruction, so to speak.
    And now, 40 years later, I think many African-Americans are thinking of this as a potential third reconstruction. But white Americans and Latinos have joined them, as well, so this really speaks to the potential, in terms of democratic progression for the nation. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University “An ‘evolution’ of U.S. democracy”:
    You know, 50 years later, we don’t think of John F. Kennedy — the first thing that comes to mind is not the first Catholic president.
    Clearly, it loomed much larger in November 1960 than it does 50 years later. And if 50 years from now, the most important thing about Barack Obama was his race, that would give me real pause, and it would suggest that his presidency, which ultimately is going to be about other things than race, was less than successful. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: “An ‘evolution’ of U.S. democracy”:
    And, you know, in a way, that is what happens when there is success in breaking a barrier.
    You know, one reason we don’t think of John Kennedy so much as a Catholic is because, by breaking the barrier, people didn’t notice those things anymore.
    The second Catholic on a national ticket after Kennedy was William Miller, on with Barry Goldwater in 1964. No one even mentioned it, you know? And I think that will happen, the same thing with the second African- American on a national ticket after Barack Obama. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • ELLEN FITZPATRICK “Hopes and concerns”:
    I think what we’re seeing is a tremendous feeling on the part of the public that what they responded to was the sense of hope that was being offered.
    This was ridiculed at times in the campaign. But every social movement that has amounted to anything in American history was based on that kind of idealism and some powerful leadership, a figure, as well, that the greatest ones have been trans-historical, who were able to capture that mood and articulate it.
    And the shifting of generations evokes 1960, as well. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH “Hopes and concerns”:
    Franklin Roosevelt once said that, since our founding, we have been engaged in a permanent peaceful revolution, a revolution that he defined as being all about, ultimately, democratic inclusiveness. And that’s very much a part of the essentially optimistic, hopeful nature of the American people.
    I was struck by those comments. And last night, people feel good. People could have been very angry in this campaign, and certainly there was anger.
    But, you know, Barack Obama notably did not run as an angry candidate. Reagan-esque style, he really did appeal to our sense of possibility. Maybe not optimism, because it’s a tough time to be optimistic, but he clearly laid the groundwork for, in effect, a unity government after a period of considerable division. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • PENIEL JOSEPH “Obama’s challenges ahead”:
    Well, I think domestically we have to go back to FDR. And FDR talked about freedom from fear in 1932, freedom from want, talked about a new social contract with the body politic.
    Certainly. And by 1940, we were faced on the eve of the Second World War, at least the United States’ involvement in that conflict.
    Certainly, in 1960, John Kennedy faced a changing world within the midst of the Cold War, but I think what Obama is facing is unprecedented in a way. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS “Obama’s challenges ahead”:
    Well, you know, another part of this is that, you know, a political scientist would say we had a lot of the ingredients yesterday for high turnout, high intensity: two candidates with big differences on the major issues; and also an election where we really are at a crossroads on economic policy, social issues, national security.
    But I must say I must have been too jaded, because I would have said probably — and I would have been wrong 48 hours ago — that, you know, people have a sense that the system isn’t working and they won’t turn out in those numbers, numbers that approach 1908, 1960, years of very high turnout.
    But the other thing is that, you know, look at Obama. You were talking about optimism and hope. Look what kind of a leader he is.
    There was a potential in the last two months for a demagogue of the kind of Huey Long of Louisiana, to just start an angry campaign, “These horrible people on Wall Street are stealing your money, and the government is paying them off, and why are oil prices so high, and arms merchants got us into a war in Iraq, and oil, and all this stuff.”
    A leader could have gone very far with that kind of an angry appeal; none of that with Obama.
    So the result is that, elected as he is by a decent margin, he’s coming in with an appeal that is almost entirely positive. And I think that says very good things about this country. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH “Obama’s challenges ahead”:
    Well, not only positive, but almost post-ideological. I mean, the really remarkable thing, here is someone who in many ways — let’s face it — is a product of the civil rights revolution, who is a product of the ’60s.
    Certainly a beneficiary, absolutely, but who was very much a product of those times, and yet who’s been very explicit in making clear his desire to turn the page on our unhealthy, cultural obsession with the 1960s. And in a sense, he’s almost a post-boomer president. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • PENIEL JOSEPH “History’s lessons on expectations”:
    Well, I think the Obama campaign has talked about the first 100 days and reading books about FDR’s first 100 days to see how he would respond if he gets into the White House.
    I think when we look at somebody like Bill Clinton, there were high expectations, and the first year was kind of rocky. He got caught up in gays in the military and Whitewater instead of policy implications.
    So in terms of managing expectations, I think it’s going to be difficult, based on the 63 million votes — this is the most in American history — but based on the campaign and the discipline of his campaign, I think he’ll be able to manage it….
    Well, the 63 million for a Democrat. This is the most a victor has gotten in American history. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS “History’s lessons on expectations”: A blessing because he can call on those people and say, “You elected me to do A, and B, and C. I’m asking you for sacrifices that may be required to achieve those things. You people have to come among with me on that.”
    But, you know, here, again, Obama benefits from having read history. In that speech last night, he said, “You know, I may not do everything in my first year or even my first term.” You sort of think that he may have read John Kennedy’s inaugural, where he said, “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days, 1,000 days, life of this administration.”
    Occasionally it does really help when a president has read some history. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH “History’s lessons on expectations”: And echoes of Dr. King. “We may not get there.”…
    Well, I mean, the classic — I mean, Herbert Hoover went into office the most popular man in the country, deemed to be an economic wizard.
    That didn’t — that didn’t sustain itself….
    But what I believe, the inauguration, this is going to be the most exciting inauguration since Andrew Jackson. And the irony is, you know, Jackson ushered in a new era of, quote, “democracy,” very limited. It included basically white men.
    But, nevertheless, it was a profound shift from the well-bred and well-read who had governed the nation before Jackson.
    They had enormous expectations. They formed an army, a new politically potent army, and he sustained that, and he transformed the party, and he transformed the country.
    That’s a tall order. But, clearly, there was that same sense of excitement. And I think, in this case, it transcends narrowly partisan loyalties.
    As I say, there’s a real feeling in this country today of almost universal pride. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • ELLEN FITZPATRICK “History’s lessons on expectations”: I think that every president has a difficult job sustaining the momentum and meeting the expectations. But the great presidents rise to their historical moment.
    It may be a terrible moment. It may be a war; it may be a horrible depression. But the public, I think, is chastened. They understand what we’re up against, and they’re looking for leadership.
    If they provide leadership, even if they don’t have all the answers and the solutions, that will carry them. – PBS Newshour, 11-5-08
  • David Greenberg: McCain Ran the Sleaziest Campaign in History?: ….But unlike those exaggerations, the line about McCain threatens to stain a man’s name for history. And when viewed without partisan blinders or presentist lenses, the charge doesn’t hold up. Indeed, it says more about today’s political culture, which has grown unusually high-minded, and the emotions that Americans invest in presidential elections, which are unfailingly intense, than it does about McCain himself…. – Slate, 11-5-08
  • Allan Lichtman, presidential historian, American University “Latest : Historic win, Canada AM”: Allan Lichtman gives us his reaction to last night’s historic win. He also provides analysis of Obama’s election campaign strategy and the future of American politics – CTV, 11-5-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University “Political History Takes New Course in ’08 Election”: Oh, sure. There’s the history you make for the first time and there’s the history that you revisit.
    Clearly, in terms of what is unprecedented, the headline about this is, come January, we will have our first African-American president or our first female vice president. That’s the headline. And it’s a pretty impressive headline.
    Beyond that headline, however, when you begin to ask what is motivating people, in terms of voting, I think you can look at a number of elections in the past which are basically about the economy. And I think, for the last six weeks, that’s certainly been what has been driving this more than anything else.
    It feels a lot like 1980, when there was clearly a desire on the part of most people for something other than the status quo, but the challenger, Ronald Reagan, had to convince a majority of the country that he represented a safe alternative to the status quo. – PBS Newshour, 11-4-08
  • PENIEL JOSEPH, Brandeis University “Political History Takes New Course in ’08 Election”:
    Certainly. The idea that the United States, 43 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, could actually have a major party nominee be an African-American is extraordinary and unprecedented.
    After signing the Voting Rights Act, August 6, 1965, Lyndon Johnson famously said that he was giving away the South, basically, for a generation. And except for a blip in 1976, when Carter won every southern state except for Virginia, that’s basically held true in two-person presidential elections.
    So the idea that an African-American, as all polls suggest, may become the next president is certainly historic and unprecedented. – PBS Newshour, 11-4-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian “Political History Takes New Course in ’08 Election”:
    Once, yes, but it hasn’t been enough. You know, I mean, first of all, it shouldn’t have taken until 1920 nor should it have taken until the end of the Civil War for African-Americans to get the vote.
    Our founders were terrific, but this is a good night to remember, as wonderful as we think they are and admire them for all sorts of reasons, these were people who did not consider African-Americans fully human, considered them mainly slaves, and also never conceived of the idea that women would be an important part of our political culture.
    This night is a triumph in those terms, too. – PBS Newshour, 11-4-08
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH “Parallels to the ’30s”:
    Well, the difference, of course, is that you had this slow-motion train wreck. I mean, you’d had three years in which the American people had been marinated in despair. And, basically, millions of them had given up hopes.
    They had lost their homes; they’d lost their jobs. And they were un-American, in the sense that they had lost that most American sense of optimism, that the future is our friend.
    So Franklin Roosevelt, who, by the way, as you know, was written off by a lot of journalists and would-be pundits in the ’32 campaign as an amiable lightweight, nevertheless won simply because he wasn’t Herbert Hoover.
    And the fact that he promised an experimental, innovative kind of government to a people who were tired of a government that appeared frozen in indifference, the difference, of course, is now — to be sure, people all year long have been saying the economy is the number-one issue, but it’s only in the last six weeks that there’s a sense of panic about the future….
    Yes, what happened in 1980 was people — Americans always believe the future is going to be better than the present. In 1980, there was a disconnect. People questioned that. And that was made-to-order for Ronald Reagan. – PBS Newshour, 11-4-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS “Parallels to the ’30s”:
    I think ’32 will do, because, you know, ’32 was, as Richard is saying, as we’ve suggested, a huge economic problem. But the thing about this year is we’re not just at a fork in the road on our economic system. We’re at a fork in the road also on national security. That rarely happens.
    ’32 was a big economic election; 1940, Franklin Roosevelt was running against Wendell Willkie, who was saying, “Don’t help the British. Let’s stay out of what would become World War II.” Now you’ve got a time when both of these issues are combined in one year.
    You know, all of us, I think, as historians tend to think that you can only see something as historic in retrospect, but anyone tonight who’s going to say that the next president is not going to have an enormous effect over how this country changes on both of those fronts I think is kidding themselves. – PBS Newshour, 11-4-08PBS Newshour, 11-4-08

Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman is not sure which direction he is going in the Senate leadership.

September 6 & 7, 2008: On the Campaign Trail

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN 2008 WATCH:

CONVENTION ROUNDUP

Republican Convention Roundup

Democratic Convention Roundup

The Stats

  • September 7, 2008: McCain leads Obama 48 percent to 45 percent among registered voters, by Gallup’s measure. McCain has so far earned the same convention bounce as Obama, though at a more rapid pace. – Politico, 9-7-08
  • McCain Camp to Leave Convention With $200 Million, Aide Says – AP, 9-6-08
  • John McCain speech draws record TV ratings: “Nielsen Media Research said a record 38.9 million TV viewers watched McCain accept the Republican nomination on Thursday, slightly more than the 38.3 million people who tuned in for Obama’s speech last week. McCain’s tally was believed to be the biggest commercial TV audience every for a single night of a U.S. political convention, Nielsen said.” – Reuters, 9-5-08

In the News…

  • Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has agreed to sit down with ABC’s Charles Gibson later this week for her first television interview since John McCain chose her as his running mate more than a week ago. – AP, 9-7-08
  • Barack Obama isn’t John McCain’s only opponent. Sometimes McCain sounds like he’s running almost as hard against President Bush and the Republican Party as he is against Obama, his Democratic rival for the White House. – AP, 9-7-08
  • McCain-Palin becoming Palin-McCain? – AP, 9-6-08
  • Candidates Launch 60-Day Dash to White House – 9-5-08
  • John McCain, Republican top gun at last The “imperfect” war hero steered clear of George W. Bush as he took aim at Barack Obama and tried to marshal his tarnished party. – Salon.com, 9-5-08
  • Palin is catapulted into starring role – Financial Times, 9-5-08
  • McCain counts on character to clinch it – Financial Times, 9-4-08

Historians’ Comments

  • Susan Livingston on “Palin, family life: Is it really an ‘issue’?”: “I think her daughter’s pregnancy would have been an issue if Palin were running as a pro-life candidate and she had secretly sought an abortion for her daughter,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s an issue at all.” She also thinks some of the other topics that have arisen are irrelevant to the campaign, such as talk about Palin’s priorities as the mother of a special needs child. “I think that is between Palin and her husband, and they will decide about childcare,” she said. Questioning Palin’s experience isn’t sexist, Livingston said. That subject is fair game, but “some of the questions about her success as a mother are a little questionable,” she said. – Clarion Ledger, 9-5-08
  • Gil Troy “Republicans pull it off Against all odds, the GOP held one of its best conventions in decades”: McCain’s speech reinforced the message that Republicans are patriots who serve, especially in the military, and Democrats are doubters who dodge. But McCain also elegantly saluted Barack Obama and the Democrats as “fellow Americans,” saying: “that’s an association that means more to me than any other.” McCain also called for an end to the “partisan rancour” that characterizes so much of contemporary politics. He used his running mate to emphasize his maverick status as a Washington outsider – and as someone not responsible for the Bush administration’s failures. McCain’s speech offered an important balance to his running mate’s rhetoric. Underneath all Palin’s charm was an ugly, divisive call for Republicans to revive the Culture Wars of the last few decades. Her us-vs.- them message, though gift-wrapped beautifully, might help Republicans win in 2008 but is not what the United States needs. Politically, it helped compensate for George W. Bush’s historic lows in the polls, and the perception that Republicans have no fresh solutions to the problems that have appeared on their watch. But it was the equivalent of the lawyer with a guilty client pounding the table passionately to compensate for the weakness of his case…. The election remains too close to call and will inevitably be fought passionately, and at times, viciously. But perhaps, just this once, Americans can be proud that they have such talented people vying to be their leaders. Perhaps, just this once, they can follow John McCain’s cue, and appreciate the common ideals that unite these leaders and their fellow citizens, even amid the hurly-burly and hoopla of a presidential campaign. – Montreal Gazette, 9-6-08
  • Richard Norton Smith, Michael Beschloss, Peniel Joseph on “Historians Examine McCain’s Message of ‘Change'”: panel of historians discuss the strengths and weaknesses of John McCain’s acceptance speech and the GOP message of “change” in Washington. – PBS Newshour, 9-4-08 Download
  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University: I think so. You know, it’s interesting. Clearly, the Democrats have no monopoly on hope and change, because the biggest change that occurred this week is this party has hope. This is a party that came in to St. Paul, if not defeatist, then, quite frankly, highly skeptical of its own chances. This was a party that came here not terribly unified, not altogether thrilled about its nominee. All of that, I think, has been transformed in the course of the last three days. You could feel it last night during Governor Palin’s speech. You can feel it tonight. It’s interesting the pivot away from George Bush. Senator McCain spent more time tonight apologizing for the last eight years than he did boasting about the last eight years. And, finally, we’ve talked several times about whether this was too biographical, whether there was a lack of specifics, particularly on economic issues….

    My sense is the Republicans are very good at stagecraft. And I think the biography that we’ve heard all week long melded very nicely into the substance, if you will, of the speech. Sen. Obama is in for the fight of his life. – PBS Newshour, 9-4-08

  • PENIEL JOSEPH, Brandeis University: Absolutely. Three big things stand out to me about this week, Jim, first, God, guns, and country. Those are the resounding themes of this convention linked to biography and really linked to the pick of Sarah Palin. Second, Palin has successfully solidified McCain’s conservative base. And she really gave a speech last night that echoed Pat Buchanan’s 1992 culture wars speech, but she did it more elegantly. Finally, diversity, or lack thereof. This convention’s delegates are 93 percent white, 5 percent Hispanic, 2 percent black. This party has seemingly ceded the minority vote to Barack Obama and the Democrats, which may have real clear electoral implications. In 2004, George Bush got 14 percent of the black vote in Ohio and 56 percent of the Hispanic vote in Florida, two key swing states that got him re-elected. – PBS Newshour, 9-4-08
  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian: Yes, it sure is. You know, it was a great speech, Jim, easily the greatest speech that John McCain ever gave. And you can see the difference between Tuesday night and tonight. This is a party with enormous intensity, especially after a very powerful speech by Sarah Palin last night. And the interesting thing is, about 10 days ago, John McCain by all accounts was intending to choose Joe Lieberman and go in a very different direction, which would have been to — you know, cause there to be a bridge to Democrats, try to go for independents, knowing that the group in this room probably would not have been as enthusiastic as they are tonight with the choice of Sarah Palin. The interesting thing is going to be whether he can augment this kind of intensity in the hall, in this party, in his base with the kind of independents in swing states he’s going to need to win the election….

    You know, when you look at these speeches, you know, the people who write them always looked at acceptance speeches of the past. And this one had references to other acceptance speeches by earlier nominees, but the ones that I found were all Democrats. Harry Truman, 1948, both he and McCain referred to a do-nothing Congress. John Kennedy, McCain talked tonight about getting this country moving again. And of all things, Al Gore in 2000, “I will fight for you.” I think one of the things that we would have expected perhaps least would be that John McCain would be quoting Al Gore. – PBS Newshour, 9-4-08

On the Campaign Trail….

  • Obama and McCain spar over Social Security – Reuters, 9-6-08
  • Sarah Palin criticizes Biden, Obama Sarah Palin: “Senator Biden can claim many chairmanships across many, many years in Washington. He certainly has many friends in Washington’s establishment. But most of his admirers, would not call him an agent of change. Senator McCain has called us a ticket of mavericks.”

    Obama: I know the governor of Alaska has been saying she’s change, and that’s great. She’s a skillful politician. When you’ve been taking all these earmarks when it’s convenient, and then suddenly you’re the champion anti- earmark person, that’s not change. Come on! I mean, words mean something. You can’t just make stuff up.

  • John McCain and Sarah Palin speaking to more than 10,000 supporters in suburban Detroit: John McCain: Again and again, I have worked with members of both parties to fix these problems. Senator Obama never has. That is why this ticket is the ticket to shake up Washington because Senator Obama doesn’t have the strength to do it. ‘He has never bucked his party on any issue, never. If you want real reform, if you want real change, send the ones who have actually done it…send a team of mavericks who aren’t afraid to go to Washington and break some china….

    Sarah Palin: True reform really is tough to achieve, but in short order, we put the government of our state back on the side of the people. I came to office promising major ethics reform to end the culture of self-dealing, and today that ethics reform is the law and that’s what we’re going to bring to Washington.

  • McCain RNC Speech Excerpts: ‘Change is Coming’

    “I’m very proud to have introduced our next vice president to the country. But I can’t wait until I introduce her to Washington. And let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country- second Washington crowd: change is coming….

    The constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn’t a cause, it’s a symptom. It’s what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not you. Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That’s how I will govern as president. I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not….

    I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here; I loved it for its decency, for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people.

    I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn’t my own man anymore, I was my country’s.

    I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.

    I hate war. It’s terrible beyond imagination.

    I’m running for president to keep the country I love safe and prevent other families from risking their loved ones in war as my family has. I will draw on all my experience with the world and its leaders, and all the tools at our disposal–diplomatic, economic, military, and the power of our ideals–to build the foundations for a stable and enduring peace.

  • Palin RNC Speech Excerpts:

    From the inside, no family ever seems typical. That’s how it is with us. Our family has the same ups and downs as any other….

    This is America and every woman can walk through every door of opportunity….

    The difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick….

    Here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion; I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this great country….

    We don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening. We tend to prefer candidates who don’t talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco….

    I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organiser, except that you have actual responsibilities….

    I got rid of a few things in the governor’s office that I don’t think our citzens should have to pay for. That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on E-bay….

  • Bill O’Reilly’s interview with Barack Obama on Fox News, Part 1

    O’Reilly: I think you were desperately wrong on the surge, and I think you should admit it to the nation that now we have defeated the terrorists in Iraq, and the Al Qaeda came there after we invaded, as you know. We defeated them.

    Obama: Right.

    O’Reilly: If we didn’t, they would have used it as a staging ground. We’ve also inhibited Iran from controlling the southern part of Iraq by the surge, which you did not support. So why won’t you say, “I was right in the beginning. I was wrong about that”?

    Obama: If you listen to what I’ve said, and I’ll repeat it right here on this show, I think that there’s no doubt that the violence is down. I believe that that is a testimony to the troops that were sent and Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. I think that the surge has succeeded in ways that nobody anticipated, by the way, including President Bush and the other supporters. It has gone very well, partly because of the Anbar situation and the Sunni awakening, partly because of the Shia military. Look–

    O’Reilly: But if it were up to you, there wouldn’t have been a surge.

    Obama: Look–

    O’Reilly: No, no, no, no.

    Obama: No, no, no–

    O’Reilly: If it were up to you, there wouldn’t have been a surge.

    Obama: No, no, no.

    O’Reilly: You and Joe Biden, no surge.

    Obama: Hold on a second, Bill. If you look at the debate that was taking place, we had gone through five years of mismanagement of this war that I thought was disastrous. And the president wanted to double down and continue on an open-ended policy that did not create the kinds of pressure on the Iraqis to take responsibility and reconcile.

    O’Reilly: But it worked. It worked. Come on.

    Obama: Bill, what I’ve said is–I’ve already said it succeed beyond our wildest dreams.

    O’Reilly: Why can’t you say, “I was right in the beginning, and I was wrong about the surge”?

    Obama: Because there’s an underlying problem where what have we done. We have reduced the violence.

    O’Reilly: Yes.

    Obama: But the Iraqis still haven’t taken responsibility, and we still don’t have the kind of political reconciliation. We are still spending, Bill, $10 to $12 billion a month.

The week that was….

  • September 7, 2008: Obama, McCain suggest changes in Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac … Republican vice presidential hopeful’s church promotes prayer to make gays straight … Presidential candidates plan joint appearance at Ground Zero to mark Sept. 11 attacks … – AP, 9-7-08
  • September 6, 2008: Pennsylvania Republicans want Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr off presidential ballot … Lawmakers putting Troopergate investigation on fast track, issuing subpoenas … Obama, still raising money, gets help from rocker Bon Jovi … – AP, 9-6-08
  • September 5, 2008: Obama says McCain and GOP are out of touch with middle-class struggles … McCain and Palin present themselves as eager reformers … Poll finds only 4 in 10 say Palin has enough experience to be president; number is higher for Biden … Subpoenas to be issued for Troopergate probe of Palin in Alaska … – AP, 9-5-08
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