Barack Obama is doing more to have a real “people’s” celebration than any president since Andrew Jackson threw open the White House doors in 1829. Moreover, now is exactly the right time for it.
I was griping to my wife, Diane, the other day about the big party Barack Obama is planning in Washington, D.C., next week. Sure, private donors are paying most of the expenses, I said, nevertheless it still seemed a terrible time to have the biggest and most expensive presidential inauguration in the history of the country.
As often happens, though, she steered me to a better way of thinking. The symbol she saw was not conspicuous consumption among the glitterati, but a party for the people. Everyone is welcome. Come one, come all.
She was right. Obama is doing more to have a real “people’s” celebration than any president since Andrew Jackson threw open the White House doors in 1829. Moreover, now is exactly the right time for it.
This sort of reaching out is a part of Obama’s DNA. His entire life story bridges two worlds, white and black. His “There is only one America” speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention catapulted him to the national stage and propelled him to victory last November.
As blogger Arianna Huffington puts it, “Barack Obama is not the only one being inaugurated Jan. 20. We all are.”
Probably the biggest mistake of George W. Bush’s presidency — the basic mistake that led to so many others — is that he did not trust the American people.
After 9/11, he cast himself in the heroic role of a “wartime president.” The entire nation was ready to rally around him. Yet unlike every wartime president of the past, he asked nothing of the people — other than the few who actually went into battle.
There would be no blood, sweat and tears. He promised quick victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a new, more peaceful world order soon to follow. Rather than raise taxes, as every wartime president before him had done, he advised us all to go shopping. Then he cut taxes and borrowed billions.
For eight years, Bush ran a divisive, ideologically one-sided administration. One would imagine that “reality-based” thinking would be something to admire. Among White House staffers, it was a term of disparagement for dissenters, who could safely be ignored. The president and his team would create their own reality. Bush himself said he did not bother to read newspapers. If he had, he might have opened himself to some realities that his staff and advisers had shut out.
Obama is taking office in the midst of an economic crisis that could cause far more destruction than we suffered on 9/11. Unlike Bush, though, the incoming president demonstrates that he trusts the people to hear the truth and act on it.
Deficits in the trillions of dollars will continue, he warns. We’ll have to make serious budget cuts. Sacrosanct programs such as Medicare and Social Security cannot be exempt. Sooner or later, we’ll have to raise taxes. Even if his plans succeed, things will get worse before they get better.
In an interview with The New York Times last week, he showed that instead of slamming his door on competing opinions, he would invite them in. “What I have confidence about,” he said, “is that I’m a good listener, I’m good at synthesizing advice from a range of different perspectives.”
Repeatedly throughout his campaign, Obama asked Americans “to step into the strong currents of history, and to shape your country’s future. Because your own story and the American story are not separate, they are shared. And they will both be enriched if together, we answer a new call to meet the challenges of our new century.”
The preamble of the Constitution starts with “We the People.” Obama is starting his presidency that way, too. That is what the big party next week is all about. Blood, sweat and tears can wait.
Dan Hall is the retired editorial page editor of Messenger Post Newspapers.
E-mail him at email@example.com.