Barack Obama will have a rival for the spotlight at Tuesday's Inauguration: the nation's First Black President.
The swearing-in of the country’s first-ever African-American commander-in-chief will be a central storyline for the media and for many in the jubilant crowd -- but it is not the tale Team Obama is trying to tell.
"The fact that this is historic is unavoidable. And it is powerful, and it is emotional," says Linda Douglass, chief spokesperson for the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee. "But the paramount goal here is to communicate through the activities and events that we are one people."
Of course, there's no way for Obama to keep Wolf Blitzer and Chris Matthews from holding forth about the historic nature of Obama's presidency; even 10-year-old Malia, when told by her dad that he'd be giving a speech at the inauguration, replied: "First African-American president -- better be good."
. . . But aside from the inescapable -- the location of the Lincoln Memorial, where King gave his "I Have a Dream Speech," and the fact that the King holiday comes a day before the inauguration -- Obama's Inauguration celebrations will do little to promote him as the carrier of that torch.
I'm pretty immune to the inauguration hoopla, largely because I had my enthusiasm glands surgically removed several years ago. I find the official inaugural merrymaking uncongenial, personally, and I won't be watching any of it. Because I'm grouchy. But I'm not entirely a sour bastard, and when I see pictures like [this] one, well, perhaps my heart might grow three sizes this day.
So look at this woman and her big ol' smile. That's just great. I bet you anything she never would have expected to be cheering for a newly elected black president in her lifetime. America has not always done right by black people, to say the very least, but at this moment, this woman, I guarantee, is easily one of the most patriotic Americans you'll ever want to come across. And this is real patriotism, too, not the bullshit kind that's invoked against people who dislike stupid wars. That's what made her go out in the cold, dammit.-- THERS
Every four or eight years, Washington's primarily white, influential, moneyed set rushes to cozy up to the new power brokers in town: Texans when George W. Bush arrived, Arkansas buddies when Bill Clinton came to town. The city's high-level social scene -- dinners, black-tie fundraisers, receptions, ubiquitous book parties -- is the place where money and experience are subtly traded for access and influence.
Except for the first time, the face of ultimate power is African American. With a black first family in the White House and a diverse group of appointees and Cabinet nominees, the all-white dinner party feels all wrong. Certain hosts are suddenly grappling with a new reality: They need some black friends. Overnight, black politicians, lawyers and journalists are hot properties, receiving engraved invitations from people they never got invitations from before.
[T]heir celebration of the event in the US will include the launch of a campaign for better inclusion of ethnic minorities in UK politics. Their belief is that the election of the first black American president will be a force for good -- even on the other side of the Atlantic.
It is a scene that will be repeated across the country as thousands of black Britons gather in celebration and eager anticipation that Mr Obama's success will become an impetus for change. From black bankers' drinks events in City bars to low-key celebrations in community halls, scores of events are being planned by black leaders and communities to commemorate the inauguration.
Is Barack Obama another Abraham Lincoln? Let's hope not. Greatness -- witness the presidencies of Lincoln, say, and Franklin D. Roosevelt -- is forged in the crucible of disaster. It comes when character is equal to cataclysm. A peacetime Lincoln would have been no Lincoln at all. Let's hope that Mr. Obama, for all of his considerable gifts, doesn't get this particular chance to be great.
Barack Obama has written that Lincoln’s "humble beginnings . . . often speak to our own." Once Lincoln had recovered from his shock that a descendant of "amalgamation" (about which he once expressed reservations) had ascended to the presidency, one suspects their mutual embrace of economic independence and natural rights, their love and mastery of the English language, their shared desire to leave their mark on history, and their astonishing gift for pragmatic improvisation, would have drawn him to a man so fundamentally similar to himself.
In the days since Mr. Obama's election, I have often been asked whether I thought I would live to see a black man become president. My answer -- yes -- often surprises. But if my father were alive today, he would answer the same way. Without that faith and that sense of possibility, he would have had no reason to fight in the first place.
As bright a day as Nov. 4 was in our nation's history, it is important to remember that Barack Obama's election is not a panacea for race relations in this country. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, yet segregation ran rampant for a hundred years. Blacks were given the right to vote in 1965, but it took 43 years for an African American to rise to the nation's highest office. Though it carries us further down the path toward equality, Barack Obama's election does not render my father's dream realized.
Top photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images