The inauguration of the 44th President of the United States

I’ve been back in Ottawa for about 36 hours after making the trip to Washington DC to observe the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.  It goes without saying that the inauguration was a historic event as the United States turned a page on centuries of troubled history as the first African-American ascended to assume the highest office in the nation.  I write this blog to report on the news, to offer opinion, and to give an account of my experiences.  I’ve never been to a Presidential inauguration and I’d like to share some of my observations of those couple of days in DC.

After going through an unusually thorough screening with Homeland security, I boarded my Air Canada flight with a number of Canadians and Americans heading to Washington.  When traveling, one often see travelers reflecting, in a clichéd way, their departure point or arrival.  On a trip to Hawaii, for example, you might see an inordinate number of leis and cheap plastic “grass” skirts on fellow passengers, in Vegas, empty plastic souvenir ‘hurricane’ margarita cups.  On this trip to DC, a number of Canadians and Americans were decked out in the colours of the American flag.  Minister Peter Kent was on my flight, on his way to represent Canada in DC as minister of state for the Americas.

Landing in at Reagan national airport, I was immediately struck by the shops which had switched from generic Americana to 99% Obama merchandise.  One t-shirt I saw had a mock headline that read something along the lines of “Now is our time” with a photoshopped image of Obama’s head on Michael Jordan’s body going for a slam dunk from the top of the key wearing a Superman outfit.  I immediately became determined to find the most tacky and absurd Obama memorabilia during my trip and if this was a location as mainstream as the airport, I’d hold my greenbacks for the streets of DC.

I took the metro to the Capitol and after fighting the lines leaving the metro, I found the line that snaked around the buildings which held the congressional offices.  As I had a ticket set aside for me, I joined the queue.  After making my way inside and after having picked up my ticket, I crashed a mid-western pre-inaugural party in the congressional district.  It wouldn’t be the last party I crashed on my trip, but for the main event, I had my golden ticket.

Next up, I made my way over to a party held by the British mission in DC.  On the way, in Dupont Circle BDS-afflicted revellers were tossing shoes at an 30-foot tall inflated cartoon effigy of George W. Bush.  In 24 hours, what would these people have to do with themselves?  After the British party, I made my way over to Clarendon with some GOP friends to attend a leftwing netroots blogger party sponsored by big labour, netroots nation, blue state digital, and a host of well-read “progressive” blogs.  With drink tickets, guitar hero, and a live band, the festivities certainly had a hobbyist-gone-mainstream feel.  I met some very talented people working on social media the Obama side of the partisan divide.

Next day was inauguration day and the common wisdom was to show up at the metro as early as possible to make one’s way to the Capitol.  Despite my best efforts, I arrived to the metro station to find it packed with people.  Apparently, record ridership was recorded on the previous day with 600,000 people passing the DC metro gates.  It’s a bit harrowing standing on a platform packed 20 rows deep with anxious DC residents and inauguration tourists when one indeed has to “mind the gap” between a packed station and the tracks.  On the train, however, people were in good spirits despite the overcrowding.

I eventually made my way from the metro to the ticketed checkpoint area.  On my way, more Obama kitsch tempted me as spontaneous capitalists popped up everywhere to hawk everything from Barack Obama action figures to Michelle Obama t-shirts.  The ticketed area in front of the inaugural platform in front of the Capitol building had rows of seats for a few thousand people.  Looking back at the national mall towards the Washington monument, we could see millions of people.  On television, it was reported that 3-4 million people were packed in to see Obama take the oath of office.  Looking across the mall, when the motorcade drove up the street, it was a shimmering sea of red white and blue as people waved their flags.

Sitting and waiting for the ceremony to begin, I spotted New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg sitting a few rows ahead.  Bloomberg was considering a run at the presidency this cycle and would have contested as an independent versus Obama and McCain.  I made my way over to Bloomberg to say hello.  The mayor was a registered Republican, however would have run as an independent.  Some speculated that his run would have made him a viable candidate for a running mate to the Republican or Democratic nominee seeking the presidency through the independent swing vote.

The inauguration ceremony went off fairly well with only the Roberts/Obama oath blunder as the only notable exception.  Obama’s speech was adequate at best and I don’t think it met the oratorical expectations that people have expected; “ask not what your country can do for you”, Obama’s speech was not.  I believe that this presidency will be about managing and decreasing expectations that have been built up during the campaign.  After the wrap up of the inauguration, Obama made his way to the other side of the Capitol building to see President Bush and his wife off in a marine helicopter.  We saw the events on a big screen on our side of the building and a few seconds later saw the helicopter pass over the roof of the Capitol and over our heads.  Everyone waved at the helicopter, though while some gave a warm wave goodbye, others were not so friendly.  The helicopter passed over the national mall and Canadian embassy.  The embassy would be my next stop.

The Canadian embassy is located on some of the best real estate in DC.  The building is about a stone’s throw away from the Capitol and had a great view for guests of the Canadian ambassador.  Party guests at the embassy included former ambassador Frank McKenna, Jason Kenney, Peter Kent, Michael J. Fox, Newt Gingrich and… for some reason… er… Star Jones?

After taking a bit of a break from inauguration festivities, a few of us on the right headed over to David Frum’s to mark the launch of his new website New Majority.  While inaugural balls were going on elsewhere in the city, I had a couple of invites for the post-inaugural Google party.  The party was downtown by the Reagan Center and was the media/Washington insider gathering was well-attended by CNN, MSNBC, DNC and RNC people.

The inauguration of Barack Obama was about the closest thing I think I’ll see to a coronation.  To be sure, Obama was elected through the democratic process, however, the fanfare, ceremony, celebrity, commemorative-plate-esque atmosphere and the millions of people caught up in it was certainly something I don’t expect to see again.

Barack Obama inspired many, from Democrats in the primaries to electors during the campaign.  He was an incredible campaigner.  Now comes the hard part: he has to govern.  With a worsening economic crisis and an ill-advised and massive economic bailout coming, transformational is bound to become transactional and we’ll need more than hope to pay off the interest.

More photos (click any photo on this page to enlarge):


The Obamas wave to the crowd on the National Mall


Joe Biden is sworn in as VPOTUS


John Kerry imagines what might have been


At the inauguration of President Barack Obama


The inaugural band packs up below the inaugural platform


President Obama’s limosine drives by the Canadian embassy


As for Obama kitsch, this hand puppet was too good to pass up


What that Barack? You’re pro-death-penalty, pro-Afghan-mission, anti-same-sex-marriage, and for private healthcare?

Liberal leadership race heats up

In my last post, I speculated that New Brunswick Liberal MP (and son of a former Governor General) Dominic LeBlanc would throw his hat into the ring for leadership of the Liberal Party. Today, LeBlanc became the first MP to announce his intentions to seek the leadership running between Ignatieff on the relative right and Rae on the left of the party.

I’ve learned some other details about who might back a LeBlanc bid for leadership. I suggested yesterday that a Martin adviser such as Steve MacKinnon would back LeBlanc. With McKenna expected to remain outside of the race, I mused that MacKinnon may go LeBlanc. However, I’ve learned today that the former national director of the Liberal Party will likely back Ignatieff while communications gurus from Paul Martin’s PMO such as Scott Reid and Tim Murphy will be more likely to back the New Brunswick MP while a Liberal insider I spoke to expects John Duffy to go with Rae.

If Ujjal Dosanjh enters the race (if he survives a putative court challenge for a recount), he is expected to do so for the purpose of gathering BC delegates for Bob Rae.

Conservatives and New Democrats I have spoken with have previously feared a bid by Bob Rae. Conservatives believe that Rae will unite and polarize the left while the NDP fears massive hemorrhaging of their membership for Rae. Recently, however, Conservatives are more bullish on their future against a Rae-led Liberal Party as the Global Economic Crisis has severely diminished Rae’s futures on the leadership market. Conservatives would easily remind Canadians of Bob Rae’s tenure during Ontario’s last economic recession and would make the case that Rae days would soon return.

As for second tier candidates, Ruby Dhalla is considering a bid. Sources of mine in Brampton–Springdale have told me that even during the election (before the knives were in Dion’s back), Dhalla told Punjabi language radio that she would be running for the Liberal leadership. Dhalla is seen to be on the right-flank of the Liberal Party and backed Ignatieff’s bid during the 2006 leadership race so unless her candidacy caches fire, she may be building proxy support for the other Liberal professor.

Woe for my love of a great comedy, Justin Trudeau is not expected to jump into the leadership race. Indeed, the son of the former Liberal Prime Minister has not yet got his feet wet in the House of Commons. Trudeau is expected to back LeBlanc as the current standard-bearer of the next generation of Liberal leaders. Trudeau backed former Ontario-cabinet minister Gerard Kennedy for leadership in 2006. Kennedy is testing the waters for entry into this contest, however, many believe that as Dion’s kingmaker, Kennedy may sit this one out to put some time between this aberration and his ambition.

Yesterday, former Chretien finance minister John Manley tested the waters in a most self-deprecating way but found none to dive into as he metaphorically suggested. The author of the Harper-initiated Manley Report was seen by many Liberals as betrayal to a weakened, embarrassed and voiceless party on the opposition benches. Manley may find redemption in his party by organizing for a front-running candidate and this would have the benefit of keeping his name in the minds of Liberal partisans.

Ironically, Dion’s election as Liberal leader may see more longshots enter this race. Ambitious Liberals with at least an ounce of name recognition may see a divided field and plan a run up the middle. LeBlanc’s entry into the race gains credibility because he is first to announce. Others may see that LeBlanc is planning a Dion-like charge up the middle as Dion had done and work to position themselves as a more palatable consensus candidate. Ottawa politicos are guessing that the field of candidates will be necessarily narrow due to a shallow and parched pool of donors. Since leadership contenders can carry previous debts into the next Liberal race, the Liberal base will again be tapped for sparse cash from not only the next crop making the case to be the Liberal Party’s next PM, but from those that are resume building and those paying down old debts during an economic crisis.

UPDATE: Ruby Dhalla’s office contacted me and they would like you to know that Ruby Dhalla did not state that she was running for leader on Punjabi radio. So, for now it’s a matter of she said vs. they said. (UPDATE: I’m now concluding that these Brampton–Springdale sources are likely inaccurate. My sincere apologies to Ruby Dhalla on this point.) Also, Dhalla’s office wants everyone to know that the image above is doctored and that Dr. Dhalla did not pose for the photo. They asked that I remove it. However, I will not comply as the image is obviously satire.

McKenna or LeBlanc?

The word late tonight is that either Frank McKenna or Dominic Leblanc will be entering the race to replace Stephane Dion as leader of the federal Liberal party. McKenna has stated to friends that he’s not particularly interested at this time, and I’ve learned that McKenna feels that with the economy in its current shape, he doesn’t want to challenge Harper in the current economic climate (in other words, he doesn’t want to strike at the confidence of Canadians by challenging the PM’s direction on the economy as the head of TD Bank). A partner at McInnes Cooper, McKenna’s former law firm has confidence that McKenna will enter the race, however, others have told me that the former New Brunswick premier will not be leaving the corporate sector to rebuild a party’s finances and ideology from the ground up.

This is good news for Dominic LeBlanc, who covets the top job of Trudeau’s party. LeBlanc would have likely deferred to McKenna if the elder New Brunswicker wanted to throw his hat into the ring. However, with McKenna not interested in the top job, this clears the way for Leblanc. If Leblanc enters the fray, I’m hearing that he’ll have the support of Justin Trudeau and the organizational muscle of Paul Martin’s team. Martin’s braintrust includes Liberal Party heavyweight Steve MacKinnon, who is close to McKenna. An alternative theory is that Leblanc is entering the race on McKenna’s behalf as a stalking horse to build the organization and team for a late entry by the former Premier.

Frank McKenna watch

I’ve learned via sources close to Frank McKenna that he’ll be having dinner with supporter, trusted advisers and longtime friends in Fredericton tonight.  Is the former Premier of New Brunswick gathering a team to run for the Liberal leadership?

RELATED: Steve Maher of the Halifax Chronicle Herald reports this morning,

On Nov. 25, [Bill] Clinton will join Mr. McKenna in the Moncton Coliseum for a talk on the world economy. When Mr. McKenna set that up, midway through this election campaign, he would have been able to guess that Mr. Dion was in the middle of losing the election.

Current Liberal leader Stephane Dion called a press conference earlier today for Monday where he is expected to announce that he’ll be stepping down. Apparently, he has been delayed in his announcement as he has been negotiating the transfer of his debt to the Liberal Party as a condition of his cooperative departure from Stornoway.

McKenna in Ottawa

Frank McKenna is in Ottawa today for an informal and intimate dinner at a small Centretown restaurant. He’ll be meeting with political staffers from all four parties, journalists, civil servants, lobbyists and intellectuals, all of which are Atlantic Canadians.

Given SES’s recent poll showing Dion’s Prime Ministerial potential at rock bottom, is McKenna in the first stages of testing the waters for a future bid at Liberal leadership?

The former New Brunswick Premier was smart to sit out for the last contest. But would McKenna steamroll Rae and Ignatieff in the next race?

Insiders say that McKenna would be a strong contender for the Liberal Party if he should ever become leader, however, it has also been said that the former Canadian ambassador to the US would rather be the clear favourite in such a race rather than getting down into the mud to slug it out with others that aspire to lead Trudeau’s party.