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January 13, 2009

Celebrate and Enjoy Next Week

Roy Meachum

It's easy to remember my first day on The Washington Post. It was January 20, 1953. Ike's first Inauguration found me as the Post copy boy assigned to carry the paper's chief photographer Arthur Ellis' camera equipment; news photogs still toted around Speed Graphics. I loved being an insider in the big event.


The last president I saw on January 20? Jimmy Carter came strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue: his famous Georgia grin stretched from curb to curb. He seized every opportunity to shake hands. Mr. Carter beamed for the throngs and cameras, including my Metromedia TV news crew.


Unless working, I spend much of my life avoiding crowds. No exception was allowed for Lyndon Baines Johnson's. I acted as an advisor to the White House social and cultural czarina, Elizabeth Clements Abell. Bess covered me with invitations and tickets for the 1965 gala happenings; I stayed away.


Something special there is about what happens next Tuesday. Every inauguration makes history, but this month takes the cake, heavy with frosting and blazing from fire candles. Barack Obama's election should not be celebrated because his father was born in Africa's Kenya, nor because he's the first Black to move into the White House. There's much more involved.


President-elect Obama excited hopes by his positive attitude towards America and its future. When much of the nation wallows in fear and trepidation, he holds his head like the coolest critter around. In the life since 1953 when Arthur Ellis provided indoctrination, only John F. Kennedy fueled belief that better days lie ahead.


We're not seizing on the youth they have in common, we're talking about the way their campaigns both radiated confidence to a thoroughly rattled nation. In his second term Dwight David Eisenhower was beset with many more problems, including his health. Every public appearance confirmed he was not the Ike who had won the war in Europe, grinning all the way.


Similarly George W. Bush and his administration leave behind an overabundance of Gordian knots. Unlike Alexander the Great, Mr. Obama cannot begin to slice them asunder. They are too numerous and long standing. Readers who know I am no fan of the incumbent may be surprised to learn I know many hands concocted this terrible mess, including presidents of both parties.


Looking at the genuinely bi-partisan names selected for office by the president-elect, I can but feel good about America's prospects. Do I have problems with some? Of course. But my crystal bowl is more beclouded than the man chosen in an overwhelming vote-slide in November.


One thing that bothers me is how security forces are playing on his color to create a thoroughly dictatorial country. Contrary to the expressed wishes of the Founding Fathers, we seem to be sliding into a society much like George Orwell's Big Brother. We are given few reasons but ordered to order our lives because security officials say.


In a prime example cited by a friend, there was a momentary spark of truth in the inauguration story. As we all know, the Virginia-District bridges will be closed next Tuesday. I had assumed, as probably you, they were ordered shut down by the super high projections of crowds complicated by security needs.


According to my friend, in a colossal boo-boo by some government bureaucrat's ukase, the real reason lies in a totally different direction. Vehicles are being kept off the bridges in case something horrible happens. It turns out; the cloak-and-daggers worry most about how the huge crowd would evacuate the city. They're talking worst case scenario, as they usually do.


Presumably Barack Obama's color has much to do with their anxiety. They envision white-supremacists and neo-Nazis staging a bloody protest, attempting to assassinate the new president – followed by an insane crowd reaction. They have no confidence in the people and millions spent to protect everyone involved, especially the Obamas.


From here, they appear frantically trying to absolve themselves if they botch up security. Royally.


Each Inauguration proves democracy works. Look on the face of Barack Obama – and his family. In such economically troubled times, one of his predecessors cautioned: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."


FDR was right! Enjoy the week's festivities.


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