Monday, January 19, 2009


DC is once again filled with excitement--a wonderful rush of humanity that I associate more with New York than Washington. Buses from out of town are dropping off crowds of excited but solemn school kids. Older black women are taking in the city in small, talkative groups. MLK Day volunteers, inspired by Obama's call to service, fill care packages for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and hand out energy efficiency kits and install solar panels in struggling neighborhoods (I got to see Steven Chu that way!). Troops closer to home guard intersections around the Mall, drawing the most appreciation (and impromptu group photos) that a domestic deployment has probably ever felt.

I've been taking pictures of all the Obama images and slogans about the city. There are stencils of "No Drama Obama" with his face on telephone poles (probably dating from the campaign), invitations to a national "hip hop caucus" during the inauguration weekend, a neon "Obama '08" design on an old firehouse, an all-Obama souvenir store on U Street that is absolutely packed with people, an "OBAMA" ice sculpture in front of Uncle Ben's Chili Bowl, Obama flags hanging from some stores and cars, cardboard Obamas for picture poses everywhere, guys hawking blinking Obama gear out of vans, and, of course, thousands of people festooned with Obama buttons and with a certain design of Obama stocking caps in black with red, white and blue writing.

For a little bit, I was starting to feel uncomfortable with it all--personality cult, drifting away from policies, etc. But now I'm cool with it. On a practical level, this thing has to take on the feel of a national, historical event for the president to pull off all he needs to pull off in the next years. The big inaugural concert yesterday, with its sea of upbeat people laughing and dancing as easily to Garth Brooks as Usher felt like what it was: an American celebration. That Franklin Mint TV ad for an Obama commemorative plate seems like as good a campaign ad as any, with its waspy white father proudly adding the plate to a bookcase full of military histories and a model cannon (at least I think there's a model cannon in there).

And old blocs have to be broken and realigned. That's why I don't feel as angry about Rev. Warren speaking tomorrow as some. We have to mix up the Christian right, harness its redeeming qualities, restart discussion---OK, we don't agree on abortion, but how will we reduce teen pregnancies?---and let the diehard rightists skulk away. If we don't, our national discussions will forever be sidetracked.

But, more importantly, it's fine to celebrate. It was a long campaign and we pulled of something unexpected and incredibly good. Really, really good---a candidate we're actually excited about, who has brought out tremendous good in people.


I do need some sort of understanding that progressivism lies behind all this. Biden gave as good of a reassurance on that front as anyone could give when he simply reminded the crowd at the inaugural concert that DC's architecture was built with the skill and sweat of workers and that work must be respected. That's it. He gave no context, no mushy stuff about all getting along. He just said that. It matched his pick of Jared Bernstein of EPI for his economic advisor. It also matched Hilda Solis for DOL, of course. It didn't match Larry Summers (though he has come a long ways on income inequality since the Clinton years) and I need a reassurance that Summers' outlook won't dominate that of the Bernsteins and Solises of the administration.

Labor will be where the Republicans, dazed by a total defeat, try to rally. They've already done so on the auto bailout and the confirmation of Solis. At their heart, Republicans agree with each other on employer-employee relations more than they do on just about any other issue. And they still think collective bargaining is, basically, foreign, sneaky, frustrating. Workers' rights seems like as good a place as any to tell them we're ready to talk, that we can hear them out on their values rhetoric, that we have an inclusive, forward-looking idea of America---but that they are no longer boss and that, for that matter, bosses are no longer boss. It should be where bipartisanship for its own sake ends.

But, for now, we can celebrate.

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