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?

US Election 2008: Linkstream

Newer
Electoral College: Data from electoral-vote.com: Obama 353 | McCain 174 | Tied 11
Candidates vote: Palin, Obama, McCain, Biden
Electoral College: Prediction from fivethirtyeight.com: Obama 348.6 | McCain 189.4
Voting problems: Twitter Vote Report
Get out the vote: Voter turnout above 60% a safe bet?
Voter Intimidation: Black Panthers brandish nightstick outside of polling station in PA (FNC followup)
Get out the vote: Freebies a ploy to get out Democrats?: Bush/Cheney webmaster
Get out the vote: Free Starbucks, Free McDonalds, Free Krispy Kreme, Free Ben&Jerrys for voting
Older

twitter releases govtweets.com clone

Today, twitter released its own version of a website I developed in the summer and launched about a month ago.

Twitter Election 2008, like its predecessor called govtweets.com that I coded, aggregates twitter mentions of John McCain, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin in real-time as a constant stream of data updated using asynchronous javascript and xml (AJAX).

I contacted some of the folks at twitter about my idea on July 22 when I was developing the website. The release of their version of the idea today is nicely designed and I’m flattered that they’ve released it to a wider audience. When a big player like twitter validates your proof of concept, you say thanks! So a big thank you to twitter!

Of course, for your Canadian fix you can check out govtweets.ca. Twitter has yet to touch the Canadian election in an official way. I hope they do soon.

govtweets update

Both govtweets.com and govtweets.ca are humming along nicely as the websites track the real-time online conversation via twitter on the POTUS race and the Canadian federal election. Here are some stats I just compiled from the levels of activity on the both govtweets.ca and govtweets.com:

In the past 8 days on govtweets.ca, there have been 303 tweets about Stephen Harper, and 120 about Jack Layton and 92 about Stephane Dion.

Comparatively, in the last 8 days at govtweets.com, there have been 24838 tweets about “Palin”, 22869 tweets about “Obama”, 20671 tweets about “McCain” and 4051 about “Biden”.

Conclusions that we can draw from this are that McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin for VP has generated much more chatter than Obama’s pick Joe Biden. Further, we can see that American politics is much more discussed globally than Canadian politics. But, I think we can also conclude that Canadians are still in the early stages of posting tweets.

And… for those of you who are wondering, I’ll be adding Elizabeth May to govtweets.ca soon.

McCain’s strategy is the wedge

As the Democrats assemble in Denver this week and kick off their National Convention today, the campaign of the presidential campaign of Republican John McCain is to capitalize on Barack Obama’s decision to tap senior senator Joe Biden as hiss running mate.

Biden’s selection as the bottom half of the Dem ticket this cycle for President is sure to anger some former supporters of former Democrat front-runner Hillary Clinton.

McCain is releasing an ad titled “Debra” which features one such angered supporter, a former delegate for Ms. Clinton. The ad presumes that there is division among Democrats moving into the week-long party in Colorado.

The convention is to feature a speech by Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton titled “securing America’s Future” where the former President will speak about the economic records of his administration versus that of the current Commander in Chief. While it is unexpected that the former President will take an open shot at his wife’s former rival, Republicans will be looking for any hint of dissention to show that Obama is not ready to lead as support isn’t solid even among left-wing partisans.

Therefore, as McCain is expected to name his choice for VP just after the Democratic Convention to change the channel as GOP activists assemble in Minneapolis-St. Paul for their convention, look for McCain to name a conservative Republican such as Romney or Huckabee to emphasize unity in his own party.

Like Obama, McCain not only has a challenge capturing independents but he faces a battle in invigoriting his own base to get out the vote in November. Obama’s choice of Biden and the added foreign policy experience that the Dem ticket sorely needed will reassure independents but will sour part of his base, especially the working class and women that supported Clinton. McCain’s challenge lies in invigorating his base. He is already stronger among independents than Obama (being a centrist Republican vs. liberal Democrat Obama) but in this, he faces a challenge exciting the GOP base, much of which consists of evangelicals which turned out for Bush/Cheney in 2000 and 2004. Look for McCain to make a nod towards the base by selecting a conservative’s Republican such as Romney or Huckabee. McCain is messaging on Democrat division with Obama’s passing on Clinton, therefore the Republican ticket will likely show McCain emphasizing his party’s unity by looking towards the right rather than the centre.