Saturday, January 24, 2009

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Ariana Hossack primps for "inaugural ball" at a Brooklyn school

There will be plenty of time to chart Barack Obama's achievements and inevitable screwups. He'll ride the polls up and down as all presidents do, he'll be hammered routinely in the blogosphere (he is already), and at times he'll be roasted even by his followers. Any Obama fan who thinks otherwise doesn't know squat about American history. But, as a point of national pride, it's worth hitting the pause button for one fleeting moment just to ponder the meaning of [Inauguration Day].

When I was young, the TV news was filled with imagery of southern blacks being beaten by white mobs, and being hosed by racist sheriffs, all because they wanted to eat in public with whites, attend schools with whites, and vote along with whites. Those news reports were my first exposure to the racial divide. This was only 45 years ago, a mere blip in time in the life of a nation. So much has since changed for the better that we barely notice, for example, that blacks (Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, Colin Powell) serve as post-racial role models in any number of spheres.

Obama's historic rise doesn't mean that true racial equality has been achieved; huge disparities persist, of course. But it does signify that America, for all its flaws and injustices, has an inherent dynamism that few other western democracies can match.

. . . The unimaginable became reality not because white voters somehow suddenly decided it was time to put a black in the White House; rather, it happened for a much better reason. A sufficient percentage of white voters opted to look past Obama's race and choose the person they deemed most qualified. Obama got 43 percent of the white vote, which was higher than John Kerry's share in '04, and higher than Al Gore's share in '00. Stats aside, I offer this anecdote: A suburban white woman I know, from a Republican family, exulted yesterday about the Obamas, saying "They're just like us!" -- and race didn't even rate a mention.


It is neither overweening emotion nor partisanship to see [Martin Luther] King's moral universe bending toward justice in the act of the first non-white man taking the oath of the presidency. But now that this moment has arrived, there is a question: How shall we judge our new leader?

If his presidency is to represent the full power of the idea that black Americans are just like everyone else -- fully human and fully capable of intellect, courage and patriotism -- then Barack Obama has to be subject to the same rough and tumble of political criticism experienced by his predecessors. To treat the first black president as if he is a fragile flower is certain to hobble him. It is also to waste a tremendous opportunity for improving race relations by doing away with stereotypes and seeing the potential in all Americans.

Yet there is fear, especially among black people, that criticism of him or any of his failures might be twisted into evidence that people of color cannot effectively lead. That amounts to wasting time and energy reacting to hateful stereotypes. It also leads to treating all criticism of Mr. Obama, whether legitimate, wrong-headed or even mean-spirited, as racist.


Yesterday, I tuned into Rush Limbaugh as I sometimes do. It was funny at first because it sounded like he would explode trying to understand why everyone was so excited about Barack Obama’s inauguration - or as he called it, the immaculation of the messiah. It was funny at first but then he said this: The only reason this is such a big deal is because Obama’s Daddy was black. So I turned Rush off for the last time. He like so many others has now become a relic from the last century.

What he and Hannity, Coulter, Boortz, Beck, Cheney, Rove, Hasselbeck, Palin and even Bush will never understand is exactly why this is indeed a very big deal for more than just the African-American community. For so many of us, these last 8 years have been a slow, painful near-death experience of something we had held so dear for so long -- Faith and Hope. No matter how hard things had been in the past, Americans always held on to their Faith in our country and Hope that better days lay ahead . But 8 years ago we lost Hope and we lost Faith. Elections could be stolen. Personal rights could be taken away. The price of a barrel of oil was worth more than the very lives of our children. Our vote no longer counted and our voices no longer heard. Our leaders -- in whom we had given our trust -- had failed us.


The inclination with any new president is to define him by those who came before. So we graft Barack Obama's head atop the black-and-white, cigarette-puffing image of Franklin Roosevelt (as Time did), or we dress him up as George Washington (as the New Yorker did), or we expound on how similar he is to that other tall, skinny, relatively inexperienced Illinois politician, Abraham Lincoln. Some even have compared the coming pitter-patter of Sasha and Malia with our sepia-toned memories of John-John and Caroline.

. . . During his eight years in office, the Great Communicator often used his remarkable powers of persuasion to advance a policy agenda that was not helpful to the generation that came after him. America's massive debt to China and other nations, rampant consumerism, an unregulated Wall Street and willful ignorance about issues from climate change to energy alternatives all have roots that were planted during Reagan's 1980s.

But the remarkable irony is this: For Obama to lead America out of this mess that was a quarter of a century in the making, and undo the Reagan myth in the process, he will need to harness the confidence, the focus, the pragmatism and the optimism of the very president whose myth he will be working to undo.


During the last few weeks, much has been made of the similarities between the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, and the current one, Barack Obama.

For example, we know that both came to the White House from Illinois. Both are regarded as masters of the political game. Both are tall. Both studied and practiced the law. And both enjoyed star-studded, pre-inauguration concerts that included an outstanding performance by folk legend Pete Seeger.

But it’s less-well-known that both Obama and Lincoln named their children Sasha and Malia, something that Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin says is "absolutely not true." At least when she’s asked during repeated late-night prank phone calls to her home.

There are countless other links between 1861 and 2009. It's been widely reported that President Obama used Lincoln’s Bible while taking the oath of office. But did you know that thanks to special arrangement with the Smithsonian Institution, on Tuesday, soul legend Aretha Franklin wore the actual hat worn by Mary Todd Lincoln during her husband's first swearing-in?

Top photograph by Michael Appleton for The New York Times

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