this is the test body
I was working for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" in April 2003, our gregarious executive producer, Daniel Kellison, convinced a few notable Red Sox players to be our guest announcers before a three-game series in Anaheim.1 This wasn't a ratings ploy, just a way for the show's New England transplants to hang out with as many Boston players as possible. When we learned Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez were coming, we were infinitely more excited than for Britney Spears' appearance six months later.
"And we're going out afterward!" Daniel predicted gleefully. "We're taking them out!"
Manny Ramirez in 2004 World Series
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
These facts remain indisputable: Manny is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the big reasons The Curse is no more.
To Daniel's disbelief, I made myself a game-time decision. See, I think like a fan, write like a fan and try like hell to keep it that way. If I went drinking with my favorite players, I might see things that couldn't be unseen. That was verified right after the show finished, when everyone poured into our legendary green room and I caught one of my heroes eyeing three scantily clad bimbos like a starving cheetah stalking a herd of grazing deer.2 That was it for me. In retrospect, I should have gone out because my buddies passed along every upsetting nugget anyway. Like the player who yanked his wedding ring off with an exaggerated pull while dancing with one of our attractive co-workers, the implication being, "Tonight, I'm single, baby!" Every time I watched the Sox from then on, when Wedding Ring Guy came to bat, I thought of him hitting on our 22-year-old talent assistant and jamming that ring in his pocket. And you wonder why I never want to drink with my favorite players.
Daniel wasn't nearly as bothered, even gushing the following day, "This was one of the great nights of my life." I made my exit stage right as he was herding a swollen group of players and co-workers to a nearby Hollywood club in two stretch limousines. Sadly, I missed David Ortiz pulling out an AmEx card in Daniel's limo, waving it with his signature gap-toothed smile and announcing happily, "I got Manny's credit card tonight!" Everyone cheered like they'd just won the pennant. With Manny riding in the other limo, they started telling "Manny Being Manny" stories, like how Manny routinely stuffed uncashed paychecks in the top shelf of his locker. Seems he rarely got around to cashing them. The checks were for $978,000 every two weeks during the season. (Big Papi knew the exact number because he made a team employee show him one.) Manny lived in a one-bedroom condo outside of Boston until Ortiz joined the club and made him relocate to the presidential suite at the Four Seasons. Daniel thought Manny's teammates made him sound like Tom Hanks in "Big," a little kid trapped in an adult's body. Everyone got a sincere kick out of him. Or so it seemed.3
They arrived at the club and Daniel started ordering drinks left and right. After all, Manny was paying! Three fun hours that I'm a fool for passing up ensued. The check arrived. Papi pulled out Manny's card, felt an unexpected twinge of guilt and confessed.4 And Manny -- the alleged idiot savant with uncashed checks spilling out of his locker, the so-called dummy who stumbled into a record contract and should have been conned into paying for everything by his much, much, much smarter teammates -- was laughing and saying, "Nononono, I'm not paying" before grabbing the card after a friendly tussle. Manny might have been dumb enough to lose his AmEx card, but he was also smart enough to get it back.
The check sat there. And it sat there.
You know who ended up paying? Daniel. Quite possibly the poorest guy there. Five years later, he remembers the exact figure: "860 dollars." Only in Hollywood.
Former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota is on Capitol Hill today meeting with his erstwhile colleagues.
"I'm hopeful I'll be back here," said Coleman as he entered the Senate's LBJ room for a lunch meeting with the Republican conference.
His Democratic opponent, Al Franken, has been declared the winner of the Minnesota contest but has yet to be sworn in as court battles continue. Coleman said that the court struggle has been extremely expensive and that he's continuing to raise money for his legal fund -- but wouldn't be doing so during the meeting.
Like any important speech, Barack Obama's inaugural address was actually several speeches rolled into one. Each string of rhetoric the new president wove on this historic occasion holds different meaning for American progressives, a weary group following eight disastrous years of conservative war and plunder and hungry for a brand of change that goes far beyond a slogan. Ultimately, it was a mixed bag -- hopeful signs, but of a distinctly conventional sort of change. A dramatic move from the far reaches of the right, but with threads that conservatives might have found attractive.
Let's start with the inaugural address as a message to the nation's governing elite. The Beltway pundits saw it as "a stark repudiation of the era of George W. Bush," in the words of New York Times columnist David Sanger. When Obama said, "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some"; when he observed that, "Without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. … A nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous"; when he promised to "restore science to its rightful place" and warned that the "ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet" ; when he promised to "harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories" -- these were all subtle digs at Bush-era policies and signs that the new administration would turn in directions that progressives could applaud.
On foreign policy, too, there were a few shots at Bush's era -- some promise of a more-progressive approach: "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," he said. "Power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. … Our power grows through its prudent use." He promised "to work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet."
There were other lines that might gladden progressive hearts. He said there was a role of government in creating "jobs at a decent wage" with "health care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified." He was inclusive, reminding the country that "our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers" (that last word a daring one in a nation that will elect a president of any color, but not an atheist).
But that was about it. Enough to strike D.C. insiders as a sharp break with the Bush administration -- surely good reason to celebrate after eight long years in the darkness. But not enough, perhaps, to impress those who want the heralded "change" to bring a deep and far-reaching transformation of our government's key institutions and power structures.
Of course, most of us progressives who put in long hours working for the Obama campaign had no such illusions. We knew from that start that our candidate was never really a progressive by our standards. Whatever his deepest inclinations might be, he is, above all, a pragmatic politician who aims to win. He picks his battles carefully, never takes on a fight unless he thinks he'll be victorious, piles up political capital by helping others with their own winnable battles, and calls in those chips to score victories on issues he really cares about. As a cautious politician, it's up to us to keep up the pressure, creating the political winds that might push him to the left.
The administration Obama put together shows his approach. He will let the foreign policy and Wall Street establishments keep charge of their bailiwicks. He'll fight no major contests on those fronts. Then when the crunch comes on the domestic issues that matter most to him -- health care, energy and the environment, help for the unemployed -- those elites will back him, or at least stand aside, making it far harder for the conservative movement to defeat him.
But even on these favored issues, his positions will never move too far leftward; he won't ask for more than the political traffic can bear. The careful wording of the inaugural address -- though it sounded to insiders like "a break from decades of Washington leadership" -- suggests that the break will be slow, gradual and cautious at best.
The overarching theme of the speech was simple: In a time of crisis, the only way to move toward a better future is to step back into a perfect American past, to live again by the high ideals that once made our nation great, ideals that "still light the world."
Of course, that City on the Hill is mostly an illusion. If you don't believe in an idealized version of the nation's past, key portions of the speech made significantly less sense.
Many of the ideals the president praised could be comfortably embraced by conservatives. In his opening sentence, he recalled "the sacrifices borne by our ancestors." The sentence highlighted by his aides in the advance publicity said bluntly: "What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties." What kind of duties? Obama invoked "the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job" -- as if a worker should have to choose between one and the other.
On the foreign front, he sounded as tough as George W. Bush at times. He invoked all-powerful terrorist networks, promising: "You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." And he praised "the risk-takers, the doers … who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom. … For us, they fought and died, in places like … Khe Sanh" -- as if the Vietnam War had been some noble crusade for a freedom.
This language wasn't directed at the pundits, or the "centrist" elites. It's directed to a much larger audience: the many millions of average Americans who sense that we're in a deep crisis but are afraid of genuine change.
It's not that they are afraid of progressive policies. Polls suggest that most Americans will approve a host of progressive policy changes, if each new policy is explained to them separately, one by one, out of any political context.
But once progressive policies are bundled together into a single platform, most Americans stop focusing on the individual policies and begin to see an image of radical change that they fear would tear apart the remaining shreds of cultural stability, leaving American society with no foundation at all.
Obama understands this perfectly well. He has talked sympathetically about the voters' longing for "a sense of continuity and stability that is unavailable in [their] economic life. … Because Democrats haven't met them halfway on cultural issues, we've not been able to communicate to them effectively an economic agenda that would help broaden our coalition." He knows that some cope with change by clinging to God, guns, etc. But those folks, and many more who are not so socially conservative, all seek continuity and stability by believing in a tightly knit package of enduring American values that they can count on to hold society together no matter what.
The Republicans would love to tar Obama as a threat to whatever is left of the unraveling social fabric. That's probably the only way they can hope to defeat him on the economic issues central to his agenda. He doesn't plan to let that happen, especially when it is so easy to avoid defeat by mobilizing the language of traditional values -- "hard work and honesty … loyalty and patriotism," and conquering every enemy -- which is music to so many American ears.
It may not be music to genuinely progressive ears. But let's not judge a president by the color of his rhetoric. Let's not assume that he's taking his stand on any firm ideological ground or telling us what he really and truly believes. Regardless of what the new president believes, it's up to us to push him to the left. But will we have any chance of success?
The best reason for thinking so comes from yet another crucial audience Obama was addressing: the mass media journalists, who speak not to the insider elite but to their idea of the average American. What did these journalists hear in the inaugural address? Judging from the headlines in news sources of national scope, they definitely heard the widely heralded "new era of responsibility," the call to "make hard choices" and "shared sacrifices." The media headlines set these words in the larger context, not of conservative values like duty and patriotism, but of the progressive values of large-scale transformation.
According to a scan of the latest news, Obama calls us to "begin again remaking America." We will "pick ourselves up," the headlines trumpeted, and find "a new way forward." No obstacle can stop us: "The challenges we face are real," but "they will be met," because "We have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."
The media created this plot line in part because it's dramatic and exciting: Will Americans rise to the challenge? Will they get the job done? It makes us want to tune in again next time, just to see what happens. The hero of the media story is not America the World Power, but America the People -- all of us -- the "men and women obscure in their labor," as Obama put it. The media sense that the people don't really want to go backward; they want to create something new. That all sounds like progressive, even radical, talk to me. If that's what the people want, why not give it to them?
Yet Obama and his speechwriters are more subtle than the headline writers. They know that the vast majority of Americans want both transformation and reassuring stability, that reassuring words are crucial to smoothing the political path of transformation.
Perhaps we can learn from Obama's approach -- learn that there is no reason to let other political forces monopolize the powerful language of traditional American values. Obama's idealized America is not the only one. We can follow his example, promoting progressive policies by clothing them in the language of traditional values, while making both the policies and the values far more progressive.
Obama's inaugural address only hinted at this possibility. It's up to us to take the hint and make real change. It will be a "long, rugged path," as he said, not "the path for the fainthearted."
"But our time of standing pat … has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America."
Now begins the process of taking the new president at his word and pushing him to do the same.
Huge throngs came to Washington to watch President-elect Barack Obama get sworn into office and attend one, or if they were lucky, several balls, parties and events. Widely billed as the biggest celebration ever to come to town, visitors couldn't help but notice that the grassroots progressive groups that helped get Obama elected are far from fading into the background until the next round of elections. Instead, those visitors -- and perhaps some Washington insiders, too -- were forced to see the advertisements spread across D.C.'s transit system proclaiming that MoveOn.org is preparing to throw its full weight behind immediately launching bold progressive reforms.
All last year, 5 million members of the MoveOn organization put their blood, sweat, tears and money behind Obama. The massive group reportedly spent $84 million and worked 20 million volunteer hours to help elect Obama. Now with his inauguration around the corner, MoveOn members, among other groups, such as the 2 million-strong Service Employees International Union, are not-so-subtly reminding Obama of their work to put him in the Oval Office and dedicating themselves to supporting his progressive agenda.
"At this historic moment, we want to recognize the real folks who helped Obama to win this election and who will go on to help achieve the change this country needs," said Eli Pariser, MoveOn's executive director.
With ads put in place last week and running during inauguration week on buses, bus shelters, subway trains and rail stations, the "Real Voices for Change" campaign promises to give Obama help in moving priority issues through Congress.
"Special interests and their friends in Congress should see these ads and take notice -- the grassroots powerhouse that got this president elected isn't going anywhere until Congress makes the real policy changes that matter to most Americans," Pariser said, announcing the campaign.
But MoveOn's commitment to Obama is no stretch for the progressive organization. The Real Voices for Change campaign concentrates on issues, chosen by members at parties, events and in a survey MoveOn sent to its members immediately following the election, that have long been centerpieces of the progressive movement. But now, because the issues correlate so strongly with Obama's stated goals for this time of financial crisis, the progressive community has an ally in power, and they're ready to work. The tagline at the bottom of all MoveOn's new ads reads: "5 million members. Ready to get started."
At the more than 1,200 post-election parties and in the survey, MoveOn members chose "universal health care," "economic recovery and job creation," "build a green economy, stop climate change" and "end the Iraq war" as their advocacy goals for 2009. Nearly half the members in the survey voted for ending the 6-year-old misadventure in Iraq and working to build a green economy. More than 60 percent of members voted to enact universal health care and working toward economic recovery and creating new jobs for Americans.
The goals are largely the same ones that Obama has said he plans to have his first term judged on, especially because of the turbulence in the markets and recent job losses and other financial hardships being visited on Americans of all stripes. But Obama has also made strong commitments that are directly aimed at easing the burden of the current financial crisis on Americans. He plans on bolstering employment with his ambitious economic recovery plan and the creation of a "green jobs" sector by investing political capital into developing environmentally friendly technologies at home.
The No. 1 priority for the group is universal health care. The health care deficit in America, with nearly one-sixth of the population, some 46 million people, without health insurance, is not only a woeful statistic on its own for the self-proclaimed richest country in the world, but is both a strain on and a symptom of the nation's economic troubles.
But regular people, not the rather abstract notion of the national economy, are the ones hit hardest. MoveOn member Pat L. in Los Angeles put it best when asked why he voted for universal health care as a top aim for his administration: "Reform isn't an option any more -- it's a necessity."
Likewise, with daunting and growing unemployment numbers coming in, the parts of the economic reform package targeting job creation is likely to have the greatest impact on struggling working families increasingly out of work. What one MoveOn member called a "devastating year" is likely to end up that way for many more. But by pumping money into programs like what Obama called "the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure," the recovery plan hopes to save or create 2.5 million new jobs in the next two years.
By investing in green-technologies and policies, such as making all federal government buildings energy efficient, Obama hopes to not only make positive progress toward stemming rapid and already-destructive man-made climate change, but he will also be creating new jobs and entire industries based on green standards. "This not only helps all Americans," said MoveOn member Cher H., of San Antonio, Texas, "but our planet as well." With the commitment to green, America should be able to put its former manufacturing prowess and technical innovation to a whole new range of environmentally friendly endeavors.
As for the war in Iraq, most of the nation has seen the folly behind the George W. Bush administration's bloody attempt at unilateral, pre-emptive war. But bringing the war in Iraq to close will have benefits far beyond merely ending the previous administration's crackpot misadventure. One will certainly be the eased burden on the treasury. "With our economy destroyed, the last thing we need to be throwing money at is a futile war," MoveOn member Francis T. said astutely. By enacting his plan for a responsible withdrawal, Obama will also be able to take the military resources from Iraq and redeploy them to more pressing national-security concerns like Afghanistan.
But without the support of Congress, Obama won't be able to implement the kind of broad-based change he is pushing for. As part of its new campaign, MoveOn held a series of "Congressional Action Trainings" this past weekend to kick-off its citizen-lobbying effort and to teach members to organize in their own states and districts. If Congress didn't get the call for change sent by Obama's overwhelming electoral victory, then it will when it starts hearing from regular constituents.
SEIU has also promised that it plans to maintain an active advocacy role throughout the election cycle lull. Two weeks ago, the union, boasting nearly 2 million members, launched a campaign of its own to help push through reforms very much like those of MoveOn. The powerful, combined voices of some 7 million politically organized Americans from across the country will be tough to miss -- even inside the Washington bubble where SEIU has pledged to appeal directly to Congress and the new administration with phone calls, letters and other actions.
SEIU, like MoveOn, is focused on the ambitious sorts of reforms that will help families across the country. Its stated goals are the passage of Obama's economic recovery plan, a universal health care bill and the Employee Free Choice Act that protects workers' right to unionize. An early institutional supporter of Obama after endorsing him only a month into the long Democratic primary battle, SEIU is looking for a return on its huge effort to elect Obama.
After knocking on 3.5 million doors and making more than 15 million phone calls in the last election cycle -- and showing its mettle and value by winning more than 80 percent of its key races -- SEIU has pledged massive resources to the new push. The group plans outreach efforts in 35 states, 1,000 full-time field staffers and an incredible 30 percent of the group's resources towards the campaign. The group has already put aside $10 million for the effort.
With a recent poll showing that more than half of America wants a strong package for recovery like the ones MoveOn and SEIU are advocating for and, notably, Obama has proposed, an aggressive and progressive agenda looks more promising than ever before. And with the country's woes -- two wars abroad and the economic downturn hitting hard at home -- bold initiatives have never been needed more.
But despite the relatively friendly climate, progressive groups and Obama are likely to encounter some push back. SEIU, for example, has set up a "war room" to battle opposition to its agenda. One thing is certain, the progressives that put Obama in power won't be happy with simply his inauguration; they want his agenda to make it through Congress and start providing the "change" and "hope" so eloquently described during the presidential race last year. And if these latest campaign's by MoveOn and SEIU are any indication, they intend to fight hard for them.
Over the past eight years, the gap between most Americans' perception of their country's role in world affairs and that of the citizens of other nations has grown into a yawning chasm. For several years, global public opinion polls have found that a majority of the planet's residents believe the United States plays a "mainly negative" role in world affairs.
Much of Obama's inaugural speech was directed not only to the citizens of this country, but to the rest of the world as well. In a rebuke to the Cheney Doctrine, and other neoconservative madness that drove so many of Bush's policies, Obama said that earlier generations of American leaders had "understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."
Time will tell how that translates into policy -- exactly what kind of change™ the Obama administration will bring to Washington. It's not only Americans who wait with eager anticipation to see. We rounded up reactions to this historic changing of the guard from newspaper editorial pages around the world, most via the excellent work of Watching America, a website that compiles -- and translates -- stories about the U.S. from the international media.
In The Guardian, Polly Toynbee writes that "even in lazily cynical Britain" the population "will all remember where we were today."
There has never been a day like it for Britain's postwar generations. As that inauguration speech echoes out, the globe itself seems to inhale a mighty, collective intake of breath, frighteningly audacious in its hope.
How does the man's arrival feel here? A day like no other, in a time of multiple crisis like none other. In the years of plenty, the British since the war have known little political excitement. …
So here comes the man who says he can [fix the many crises we face]. It's an American mystery that this great pool of genius has usually thrown such minnows into the White House. But the monumental present danger has summoned forth a man who promises the intellect, character and power of persuasion to match the hour.
On this day all alive will remember where they were when they saw Obama sworn in, when they heard him speak. I shall be in a Commons meeting room -- where Dawn Butler, the black MP for Brent, will be launching "Bernie's list" to promote black candidates -- with crowds of mainly ethnic-minority young Brent people gathered to watch Obama's speech. Since the rise of Obama, the MP says, throngs have come forward to join her campaign.
Let whoever will be cynical do so today: they will have their I-told-you-so moments. Political passion is unfashionable, risky, naive and destined for disappointment. Enthusiasm is rare in British politics, but today is a reminder that it is always worth celebrating the better over the worse. The hope is not just for what the man will do, but that his brand of politics rubs off on politicians everywhere. It wasn't until Obama was elected on a tax-the-rich ticket that Brown and Darling dared to follow suit, 11 years late. This is a day for politicians to take heart and dare to challenge recycled focus group prejudice.
In the Norwegian Dagsavisen, they struck quite a different tone …
The only thing certain about Barack Obama's presidency is that many people will be disappointed. The expectations for an almost revolutionary wave of change in both America and in America's relationship with the world are unrealistic and will end in a collective political depression.
America has not chosen a wizard or magician to govern the nation of over 300 million people. The limitations are staring the new president in the face: financial crisis, economic recession, more and more job losses (half a million jobs lost in December alone), an astronomical burden of debt, two wars in which America plays the part of the main belligerent, and a national reputation that, in parts of the world, will need to be salvaged from the remaining wreckage.
Some struck a chord somewhere in the middle -- expressing hope for the new administration, but skepticism about its ability to overcome the challenges before it. Peru's La Republic:
The first president of black origin in the United States takes on an outlook of the same color. With his intelligence and competence, he would seem to have the situation under control.
The editorial lists Bush's legacy, Obama's own lofty rhetoric, the decline of American credibility and …
The recession. As Obama has repeated this week, this is the worst crisis since the great depression of the 30's.
Everyone is permitted to suspect, furthermore, that we have not yet hit the bottom. While unemployment is already almost three million people, Obama offers to create the same number of jobs. It isn't clear how he will be able to achieve that. The fiscal deficit will be at least three times bigger than that of 2008; with its 1,200 trillion dollars, it is the biggest since the Second World War as proportion of GNP (8.3%). These figures do not take into account Obama's package. This could be an uncontrollable contributing factor of future hyperinflation and the depression of the dollar. Will better times come?
Many American pundits have suggested that Obama's election relegates racism to a relic of our bitter past. Not everyone agrees, as this story in Germany's Die Welt illustrates …
Ed Buren is afraid of blacks. He's afraid of the black man that will enter the White House … and he's afraid of blacks in general. "I don't want anybody like that making decisions about me or my life," he says. Almost threateningly he adds, "That's the way it is." He won't speak the president-elect's name aloud, but he takes pleasure in repeating his middle name: Hussein, like Saddam.
Ed Buren lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a small town east of Atlanta. He comes off as a cartoon character in a book of clichés, a redneck as the reactionary backwoods folks here are called. They may sound dull, bizarre and outdated, but voices like Ed Buren's are heard with increasing frequency since the November 4th election, the mouth usually hidden behind the hand.
He said he voted for John McCain, reluctantly and with a heavy heart because McCain was too liberal for him, by which he meant McCain was too moderate. He finds it hard to believe that his countrymen actually voted Obama into office – and with a solid majority of nearly 53 percent and 365 electoral college votes.
There must have been something rotten going on, some sort of a conspiracy. "The blacks rigged the outcome, along with the gays and the Spics," Ed says. ("Spics" is the jargon Ed Buren and his friends use to describe Latinos). Then he turns his attention to the steaming sausage dinner he ordered – knackwurst, bratwurst, white wurst, scalded wurst. He bites into everything as savagely as if the sausages were his worst enemy.
Obama's candidacy mobilized many young and black voters, above all in America's southern states. At the same time, however, the unhinged side, the reactionary face of the South also became more visible. In some states and counties Obama's candidacy led to a backlash among white voters, Democrats as well as Republicans. In Arkansas and Louisiana, more people voted Republican in 2008 than in 2004. In Lamar County, Arkansas, John McCain won 76 percent of the vote, five percent more than George Bush got four years earlier.
But most of the focus in the international press was on global issues. In Kenya's Daily Nation, editors expressed hope that America would return to a policy of collaboration with the rest of the world …
It was one pf President Obama's predecessors of yore, Theodore Roosevelt, popularised using the African proverb, "Speak softly and carry a big stick".
It is unfortunate that many American leaders since have forgotten the simple dictum, preferring arrogance and bully-boy tactics in their relations with the rest of the world.
The upshot is that the respect the sole superpower used to command has been replaced by suspicion and loathing. President Obama must move decisively to restore faith, trust and respect as a cornerstone of US foreign policy.
If the US treats the rest of the world as friends and partners, it might find that the hate it attracts will dissipate, and so will some of the attitudes that make the country a prime target for international terrorism.
The Irish Examiner notes that Obama's greatest challenge may be dealing with the end of American hegemony.
America's fate in the coming decades is not to swagger but to be relegated. Successfully managing relegation is as great a test of leadership as is handling expansion, but it is a different test. Though he may not yet be comfortable with the idea, the role for which he has been chosen is the management of national decline.
Though burdened with unrealistic expectation he will be the first US president to accept not the possibilities but the constraints of power. One of his great challenges will be to bring his country to a peaceful recognition of this.
…He will have to find a way of being honest with Americans about their country's fall from hegemony. In a nation that bristles at any suggestion that they can be beaten at anything, the depth of this challenge should not be underestimated.
"Yes we can!" was an easy sentiment to endorse. "No we can't," will be a far, far harder thing to say.
Spain's ABC Journal cautioned against what it sees as "irrational exuberance" surrounding Obama:
Of the Three Kings [in the Bible, who visited Jesus after his birth], the Black King, Balthasar, is the one most favored by children who trust in his infinite prodigality and capacity to meet their requests. As if the Black King had some special powers to always meet the expectations placed on him.
That is what occurs to adults with Barack Obama, the other magical black king. Obama is expected to take us out of crisis in less than six months, while it took Roosevelt more than 10 years. He is trusted to have a great strategy to, once and for all, settle Afghanistan, a country where British, Soviet and NATO allies have failed for 100 years, to draw the troops from Iraq without causing more shame, to close Guantánamo without, in the process, allowing terrorists to escape, to teach the Iranians the errors of their ways …
Although Obama is globalized and well-traveled, everything indicates that, following the misadventures in Iraq and other failed missions, the U.S. administration will live a far less ambitious stage outside that of Bush. Many of those who voted for Obama expect him to focus his energies on improving their homeland and forget old dreams of grandeur. An inevitable disappointment to the world will soon arrive.
Not surprisingly, many editorials were dedicated to how the new administration would respond to issues facing their respective regions. Egypt's Al Ahram decries Obama's "silence on Gaza":
Apparently American President-elect Barack Obama prefers silence to making any sound about the Indian-Pakistani military escalations and the missile shield row between Russia and NATO. But a look at the tragic and heart wrenching bloody scenes of Gaza he came to know from both TV and intelligence reports will not break this silence. Indeed, Obama's behavior implies double-dealing and cautiousness. Perhaps he believes that adopting an attitude other than expressing his worries would be more risky than being accused of passivity. What he intended to say might frustrate the Palestinians and Arabs, even with the optimum aspects of diplomacy.
Pakistan's Dawn discusses the U.S. Presence in Afghanistan:
WHY would the United States commit itself to being in Afghanistan in the long run? The Afghans have shown time and again, most recently when the Soviet Union tried to occupy their country, that they have zero tolerance for the presence of foreign troops on their soil.
This is the case even when the troops have come in with the consent of the government in Kabul. Welcome has also run out for the Americans and Nato. The increased violence directed at the forces from these sources is the result of the increasing unpopularity of the government headed by President Hamid Karzai. Why would Washington take the risk of losing its soldiers and cultivating extreme hostility by staying on in Afghanistan? Are their strategic interests for America to protect that would justify taking these risks? These questions and the answers to them have great significance for Pakistan.
We should not seek answers to these questions from the rhetoric of the campaign when as candidate Barack Obama promised that if elected his administration would give a high priority to winning the war in Afghanistan. He had opposed the attack on Iraq even before he appeared on the national political scene. Once there, he articulated a position that contributed to his success in the elections. He said that President George W. Bush had wasted American blood and treasure on a war that did not have any justification. He promised to pull out American troops from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan where Washington was fighting a just war. That was, however, then. Will he persist in this approach in the presidency?
And the Moscow Times urges Obama not to launch a new Cold War.
Last August, the war in the Caucasus led the U.S.-Russia relationship to the brink of real confrontation, something the world had not seen in a quarter century. Tensions have eased since then -- the world economic crisis being a "saving grace" -- but the fundamental problem remains. Moscow is unhappy with U.S. policies that are implemented so close to Russia's borders, and the Kremlin's sharp responses make its neighbors nervous. Many people talk about a return to the Cold War.
Your predecessor's failure to "get Russia right" was rooted in the basic neglect of an important country. President George W. Bush's jovial camaraderie with then-President Vladimir Putin simulated -- rather than stimulated -- the relationship between the United States and Russia. The promise of a strategic partnership in the wake of Sept. 11 was mindlessly neglected because at the time preparing for the invasion of Iraq became the sole focus of the Bush White House.
Later on, what passed for a U.S. policy on Russia was often reduced to comments on Russia's domestic developments. The result was mounting frustration on the U.S. side over the inability to change things inside Russia, which was matched by the Kremlin's growing irritation over U.S. interference in Russia's internal affairs. More recently, the prospect of awarding NATO's Membership Action Plan to Ukraine and Georgia and plans to construct elements of a missile-defense system in Central Europe damaged U.S.-Russian relations.
Mr. President-elect, you have a chance, as well as a responsibility, to reverse the tide.
You have vowed that your administration will be made up of pragmatists with values, not ideologues with dogmas. This is a solid foundation for a successful and constructive foreign policy toward Russia.
And in Iran, the country celebrated the departure of George W. Bush, but as Middle East Online noted, many Iranians are dubious:
People in Tehran voiced scepticism about a possible thaw in ties between Tehran and Washington.
The ultra-conservative Kayhan daily dubbed Barack Obama as "a big fan of Zionists," below a cartoon that showed outgoing US President George W. Bush handing the Israeli flag to the new Democratic US leader.
The conservative Hamshahri ran a sarcastic headline: "The change advocate, who changed," noting what it described as Obama's "recent change of tone" to support war policies of the previous Republican administration.
Tomorrow, I will allow my cynicism to return; I’ll face up to the fact that we now have an instinctive centrist tasked with digging us out of the deep hole in which we find ourselves.
I’ll be acutely aware of the promise and peril of an Obama administration; he can give the Right the gift of laying blame for 8 years of disastrous “conservatism” onto Obama — and liberalism by extension — or he can usher in an era of liberal consensus such as existed between FDR’s swearing in and the signing of the Civil Rights Act.
But today, I think it’s appropriate to celebrate the moment. Change has come — its exact nature still to be determined — and that is something joyous unto itself.
A smart black guy with a funny ay-rab name just became president of these United States.
I wanted to watch the speech with others, so I hit the streets.
Following is the prepared text of President-elect Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, as provided by the Presidential Inaugural Committee:
My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
Millions of people are expected to descend on the nation's capital for the inauguration of Barack Obama. It is unprecedented: churches, temples, mosques and tribal councils have hired buses to attend. Schools are closing for the day. Universities are setting up JumboTrons to watch the festivities. Global media will join the dancing in the streets.
A friend recently asked me if I thought all these constituencies were celebrating the same things. Did I think this coronation-scaled civic bliss was mostly about Obama's being our first African-American president? Or was it because his win convinces us that some "post-race" American Dream has been ultimately affirmed? That he's going to improve the economy? Repair global relations?
The question made me reflect for a moment. Yes, the symbolism of his race is significant, although it certainly cannot be equated with the end of racism. And surely we're uplifted by Obama's being so genuinely likable and smart. No doubt the euphoria is also unusually great because his campaign drew constituents into political engagement--the phone banks, the door-to-door canvassing, the social networks, mass e-mails and text messages. As a result, people feel personal, even possessive, satisfaction about his victory.
But at least as important as all that, I think, is a kind of Wizard of Oz-ish fizzy relief about George W. Bush's exit--as in Ding Dong, the Wicked Warlock is melting into a nice little past-tense puddle. There's a giddily celebratory sweeping out of the indubitably, absolutely, completely, very worst president in our history. So many bad things have happened in the past eight years that it's hard to keep them all in one's head at one time. Another friend says he hung a list in the hallway of his apartment building, tabulating all the really awful things he blames Bush for. Other neighbors added to it. At first, he said, he was going to use it to host an inauguration party at which people would knock back a shot for each phenomenally inept executive flub. But then, he says, "I realized we'd all be drunk for a year."
In any event, it's a great list; the sheer length of it reminds one how dizzyingly mismanaged the executive office has been. Here are a few of the highlights, to get you in the mood of groveling gratitude for the new course we are about to embark upon:
Pax Americana and the aspiration to consolidate a global American empire. The Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive warfare. Hurricane Katrina and "heckuva job, Brownie." The explicit rejection of the Geneva Conventions. John Yoo's and Alberto Gonzales's redefinition of torture. Paul Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank subsidizing his girlfriend. Ahmad Chalabi. The FCC allowing greater consolidation of media. The outing of Valerie Plame. The manipulations asserting that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The addled handling of Harriet Miers's nomination to the Supreme Court. Opposition to stem cell research. The looting of the National Museum of Iraq, and the burning of Baghdad's National Library. Donald Rumsfeld's remarks that rioting in Iraq was the sign of a liberated people and that Iraq was no more violent than some American cities. Stacking the Civil Rights Commission with conservatives, like Abigail Thernstrom, who want to overturn sections of the Voting Rights Act. The shooting death of Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari and injury of journalist Giuliana Sgrena at the hands of American soldiers. The appointment of ultraconservatives John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Cheney filling his friend with birdshot. The USA Patriot Act. Doing away with habeas corpus. The National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of citizens' phone calls and e-mails. The notion of an unchecked, unaccountable "unitary executive." The failure to keep official numbers of dead Iraqi civilians. The forbidding of photographs, or even visibility, of American military dead. The multilayered, high-level lying about how football hero Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan. Halliburton taking kickbacks from Kuwaiti oil suppliers. Paul Bremer dispensing billions of dollars for contracts in Iraq, which disappeared, never to be accounted for or recovered. Blackwater mercenaries accused of murdering Iraqi civilians. "Military tribunals" established outside the military justice system, with no due process or right to an attorney or to cross-examination or even to know the charges. The silly disparagement of the national anthem sung in Spanish. Bush talking directly to God. Abu Ghraib. Profiling Arab, Muslim and Latino immigrants. Guantánamo. Extraordinary rendition. Lousy veterans' benefits. Lousy veterans' hospitals. The failure to provide soldiers with reinforced armored vehicles ("You go to war with the army you have," explained Rumsfeld). The refusal to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder as a legitimate condition. Monica Goodling's political litmus tests in hiring for nonpolitical posts in the Justice Department. Expelling Helen Thomas from the White House press room and putting in fake reporter "Jeff Gannon" to throw adoring softball questions. John Ashcroft's draping of bare-breasted sculptures in the Justice Department. His subpoenas of more than 2,500 records of abortions performed at public hospitals. Gonzales firing US Attorneys around the country for political reasons. Oh, and did I forget the economy?
This is only a short list--it doesn't even touch on the things we were spared but that might have happened: Bush's (failed) nomination of Bernard Kerik to head Homeland Security; the privatization of Social Security; the elevation of Alberto Gonzales and Robert Bork to the Supreme Court; a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
"Honestly," says my friend, "who needs booze? Just reading the list, you could get drunk and have a killer hangover." I do suppose we'll all sober up after inauguration day. But I'm going to sneak a look at the list every now and then, just to make sure I don't take anything for granted. However challenging the future we face, an Obama administration represents real change.
He started two disastrous wars that have left millions dead or displaced, sat by while a major American city was destroyed, oversaw the evaporation of trillions of dollars in wealth and will leave office as one of the most loathed figures in American history.
One would expect a man like George W. Bush -- one who has single-handedly destroyed America's image in the world -- to slink off into well-deserved ignominy. But there's little chance of that. Instead, he's poised to line his pockets on the lecture circuit, a man who's led a famously unexamined life ready to pontificate about world events for fat fees.
He crassly told journalist Robert Draper that his chief post-presidential intention is to "give some speeches, just to replenish the ol' coffers." Other members of his disastrous administration are already "replenishing" their coffers.
Of course, Bush's coffers are not what most would consider depleted; he's leaving office with assets valued somewhere between $8 million and $20 million. But once he embarks on the lecture circuit, he'll be able to augment that fortune considerably. Bush will be able to command between $100,000 and $150,000 per speech, says Lourdes Swarts, president of 21st Century Speakers, a prominent speaking agency. For talks to overseas audiences, the figure rises to something closer to a quarter-million dollars. "The speaking market is wide and expands to overseas audiences," says Swarts.
Mark Updegrove, author of the 2006 book Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House, says Bush will be a huge draw. "There is no shortage of organizations willing to pay for the prestige of the presidency, regardless of how controversial a president is," he said. Swarts agrees: "President Bush will be very popular," she said.
But President Bush is not very popular with the American people, raising the question of who will be willing to pay him the extravagant sums he'll demand. Fortunately for him, the groups he has enriched during his eight disastrous years in the White House remain committed to him. "Keep in mind that in the corporate world, the president has an 80 percent approval rate, and they are the ones that will hire or fire a speaker," says Swarts. Many of the groups that hire former presidents are business organizations, and they can be counted on to keep Bush in high demand on the lecture circuit.
There are also a few countries in which he remains popular in -- popular destinations like Albania, the Philippines and Tanzania.
Lest anyone doubt Bush's prospective popularity as a speaker, former members of his administration provide correction. Ari Fleischer, the former White House spokesman who infamously warned Americans to "be careful what they said" following the 9/11 attacks, commands $15,000 to $25,000 per event.
Interested parties can choose between two standard speeches. In the first, "America and Israel: The path to Stability in the Middle East," listeners can hear Fleischer "take sides" in the conflict; he "credits Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East and notes the sacrifices they have made for peace. He asks where the moderate Arabs are, and he's sharply critical of the Palestinian leadership's failure to confront terror." There is no mention, apparently, of Bush's promise of a Palestinian state.
Alberto Gonzalez, the former attorney general who was forced to resign in disgrace for his role in the U.S. attorneys scandal, commands over $25,000 a pop to speak to like-minded audiences. His listing on the Greater Talent Network's Web site understatedly describes him as someone who "played a vital role in the administration's fight in the war on terror and addressing the changing role of the Department of Justice post 9/11."
Other administration officials also grab sizable speaking fees. John Ashcroft gets $25,000. Donald Rumsfeld gets $65,000 and is very popular. Karl Rove gets $50,000 and pimps himself out more aggressively than most. His Web site features dozens of testimonials from satisfied customers, mostly business groups.
"I think I can honestly say I have never met a more dynamic and gracious person," says Ballard W. Cassady, Jr., of the Kentucky Bankers Association.
"I don't think we could have had a better closing speaker than Karl. The attendees were almost unanimously enthralled throughout his entire presentation and pleasantly surprised at how funny and personable he was," reports the National Association of Convenience Stores.
"Karl Rove has a one-of-a-kind political mind and a biting wit. Both were on full display when he spoke for our recent luncheon. An enthusiastic Dallas crowd laughed along as they learned from his insight, then they gave him a standing ovation," gushes the president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, the conservative think tank.
All of this is in keeping with a gradual shift in how presidents comport themselves following their departure from the highest office. When Harry Truman left the White House in 1953, he was still surviving off his Army pension of $112.26 per month, and he had to take out a loan at Washington's national bank in his last weeks as president to get him through. He turned down numerous offers from organizations for easy jobs paying over $100,000 per year, and he never accepted consulting fees. He even turned down a free Toyota offered by the company as a demonstration of good relations between Japan and America. According to David McCullough's book Truman, "His only intention, as he said, was to do nothing -- accept no position, lend his name to no organization or transaction -- that would exploit or 'commercialize' the prestige and dignity of the office of the president."
Well, goodbye to all that. Presidents following Truman have had much less compunction about profiting from their time leading the most powerful nation on earth. Eisenhower was a paid TV news commentator during political party conventions, says Updegrove. "But it was still not very common for presidents to make money off the office until Gerald Ford joined the boards of several corporations," he says.
Ford was roundly criticized for his actions at the time, although they seem positively dignified by today's standards. He signed on with American Express, Texas Commerce Bank, 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and others. All told, he netted more than a million dollars in supplemental income from these corporations, but Ford dismissed his critics, saying, "it's nobody's business, because I'm a private citizen now." Subsequent presidents have agreed.
Ronald Reagan was heavily criticized for making commercials for Japanese companies, although Jimmy Carter had done much the same thing, according to Updegrove. George H.W. Bush was really the innovator in realizing the great wealth that could be amassed simply by talking. He left office in 1992 as a mildly popular one-term president after losing an election with the lowest percentage of the vote for any major candidate since William Howard Taft in 1912. But as recently as 2004, Bush the elder was reportedly paid more than $100,000 for giving speeches in China. "I don't know what my dad gets -- it's more than 50-, 75- thousand dollars a speech," the current president told Draper.
Bush also noted to Draper that "[Bill] Clinton's making a lot of money." Indeed, he is. After leaving office at age 54 in 2001 with approximately $12 million in legal debts, the former president made at least $40 million in speaking fees. The minimum fee was $100,000, but he got up to $400,000 for some speeches.
Clinton left office as a highly popular president, however. His 65 percent approval rating at the time of departure was the best for any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he was even more popular abroad than at home. Bush, on the other hand, will be leaving office more unpopular -- and for a longer period of time -- than any president in the history of American polling.
Even without his family's massive wealth, Bush would never be destitute. Since the Truman era, Congress has given former presidents a pension adequate for a comfortable retirement. Bush will receive $186,000 a year, in addition to travel funds, mailing privileges, Secret Service protection, office space, staff and transition expenses.
Editor's note: A Salvadoran immigrant who works as a cleaner at Union Station in the nation's capital watched the festivities as she did her job. She shared her hopes for a new Obama presidency with New York-based NAM editor Anthony D. Advincula.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Maria Perez speaks little English. For more than 20 years now, she has worked as a cleaner at Union Station here, six days a week, earning slightly more than the minimum wage. She is proud to be among the millions of Latinos who voted for Barack Obama and helped to make him the 44th U.S. president.
On the night of Jan. 18, at a celebrity-studded Latino Inaugural Ball held at the station, Perez was dressed in a gray sweater over her cleaning uniform – red shirt and black pants – as she swept litter with her broom and dustpan and snaked through the upscale crowd of more than 3,000 women in gowns and men in tuxedos.
Despite the disparities between her and the party-goers around her, Perez, 35, said that she felt united with them, at least that night, by Obama’s presidency.
“I am a Latino. My soul is a Latino, and I am happy I am support Barack,” Perez said in broken English. “Tonight I like it. All people here is happy and beautiful.”
On one side of the hall, the crowd roared each time a celebrity, like Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Rosario Dawson, Geraldo Rivera, Paulina Rubio and David Archuleta, came in and walked on the red carpet. Cameras flashed and wine glasses clinked.
“I am hope that Barack Obama fix the economia, give more jobs, give better health programs for all the people in America,” she lamented. “Of course, I am hope to hear about imigracion.”
An immigrant from El Salvador, Perez is concerned about the future of her three kids, ages nine, seven and five. The two older ones go to a public elementary school on Georgia Avenue, one of the economically depressed neighborhoods in the Washington, D.C. area.
“My heart want Obama to give my children a very good education. They good kids,” she said. “I want to keep my job because I can save some money. Just little, not mucho dinero.”
There are 15 cleaners at Union Station, Perez said. Most are Latinos. Some are assigned to clean the floor and hallways and others to clean the bathrooms. When they learned that the Latino Inaugural Ball was going to be at the station, she added, they all got thrilled. “We will see the Latino American actors and actresses," she said. "For me, no chance to see the actors and actresses with my eyes, only in television.”
With the economic recession, Perez believes that there are no work guarantees for every American – and for most immigrants. Her husband, who is a dishwasher in a Chinatown restaurant, feels the pinch as more and more workers there get laid off.
As the hall filled with community leaders, sponsors, funders and supporters, Perez looked around, expressing her hopes that influential Latinos, mostly those who have political connections, would support immigrant workers.
“We Latinos, we must support Obama. He’s black, but I am dark, too,” Perez said smiling. At one point, she held the broom and dustpan in one hand and, with her cell phone, took a quick photograph of the band playing on the stage. “Tonight, I’m excited I will see Hor-heh,” she added, referring to actor George Lopez.
It was a moment of victory in the political cultural war that has gripped the United States since the tumultuous days of the 1960s. It came in the middle of the inauguration celebration held at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday. And its bearer was Garth Brooks. The man who has epitomized country music, the official music of Red-State America, was hailing the election of a man who represents what many people with a Red-State mentality oppose: an America that embraces liberal attitudes of diversity and tolerance, that does not equate Ivy League-style education with effete elitism, and that does not hold on to traditions to block social change and progress. True, Brooks is no rock-ribbed redneck. His 1992 song, “We Shall Be Free.” essentially endorsed gay marriage. But when he performed the old Isley Brothers soul classic, “Shout,” before a massive crowd of Obama supporters, you could almost hear some Red-Staters wail, “They’ve turned our Garth into a black guy!” When he finished, Brooks doffed his cowboy hat toward President-elect Barack Obama, who sat with his family to the side of the stage.
The show at the Lincoln Memorial contained other moments signaling that the cultural civil war that began with the civil rights crusade, the movement against the Vietnam War, and the rise of hippie-dom was done—at least for now—and that the libs had won. Toward the end of the HBO-aired event, Bruce Springsteen, once a greaser-rocker, brought out folk music hero and activist Pete Seeger, once derided by conservatives as a commie, and Seeger led the crowd in “This Land Is Your Land.” This song is the liberal national anthem, written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 as a populist-minded response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America,” which was too rah-rah for Guthrie’s liking. (Beyoncé then hit the stage and belted out “God Bless America.”)
Earlier in the day, minutes before HBO threw the on-switch for its taping, gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson delivered an invocation that probably would be considered heretical by many fundamentalists. He began:
Bless us with tears--for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger--at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people….Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance--replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.
Take that, Rick Warren.
During the show that followed, the Washington Gay Men’s Chorus performed “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”--appearing on the same stage as military honor guards. Gays and the military--it was all part of this “We Are One” extravaganza. Had John McCain and Sarah Palin (and their America) won in November, there would have been no such coming together. And no U2 singing "Pride (In the Name of Love”), its anthem-tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., for the new president the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day (a federal holiday that had been opposed by some Red-Staters, including McCain).
In the United States, culture is politics—and vice versa. Obama’s election helped define—or redefine—which currents and sensibilities are ascendant. And Obama made this victory possible with his skills as a political communicator. He has deftly blocked the right’s traditional assaults on his—and, by extension, his supporter’s—patriotism. In fact, he has masterfully embraced America’s mythology—such as when he praises the drafters of the Declaration of Independence—while recognizing the past and present flaws of the nation.
On Saturday, in Philadelphia, as Obama began a train ride to Washington, DC, he delivered remarks that were better than many inaugural addresses of the past. Celebrating the revolution that gave birth to the United States, he said, “The American Revolution was--and remains--an ongoing struggle in the minds and hearts of the people to live up to our founding creed. Starting now, let's take up in our own lives the work of perfecting our union.”
Politicians and others often smugly cite the nation’s founding fathers and their accomplishments in a self-satisfied manner and as an act of (national) self-validation. Obama references the country’s civic icons as an argument for national betterment. Before hopping on that train, Obama proclaimed, “People who love this country can change it.”
That is the opposite of the old slogan used by the right when the political culture war began: “America, love it or leave it.” No, the protesters of that time countered, America, make it better. The expansive view of America—that it is ever-changing, that it always can be improved, that it embodies a wide assortment of people and views—was on display beneath Lincoln’s marble gaze on Sunday. More important, it had helped propel the electoral wave that landed Obama in office.
No victories are permanent. Shifts, backlashes, reversals are always possible. But for the moment, via Obama’s election, a great debate has been decided. The times have a-changed.
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