Obama Live Blog

This historic day has come and we have live coverage on NBC, courtesy of talking heads Brian Williams, Lester Holt and the avuncular Tom Brokaw, and some pretty impressive camera work as the Very Important People come from the White House, both the outgoing and incoming Presidents and Vice-Presidents, in new, snazzy, thick-doored Cadillac limousines. We see them wheeling down Pennsylvania Avenue, lights flashing, on their 1.5 mile drive to the Capitol. It’s a clear, very crisp day in the nation’s capital, with temperatures in the teens.

The NBC cameras and microphones are literally all over the place, and reporters are scattered about. The “Today” show with Matt, Meredith, Ann and Al, were here of course, broadcasting live. But the main booth is where the play-by-play is happening, and the chatter is connected to all the various planned (and occasionally spontaneous) happenings taking place there at the Capitol.

•    8:00    We see the Presidents and Vice Presidents leaving the White House separately, in pairs. Cheney is in a wheelchair because he pulled a back muscle while picking up a box of books yesterday in his home in McLean. I knew this from last night. So this kinda sucks for him and I can’t imagine sitting in that thing all day in this cold so we can celebrate a liberal. Biden looks a little too happy and he barely speaks to Cheney. Brian Williams notes that these guys are almost sworn enemies.
•    8:03    OK, it’s the Presidents’ turn. Apparently, George HW Bush and Barbara came by this morning and had a final WH breakfast with their son on his last day. I guess the Cheneys joined them too. Obama arrived as well, from church this morning, and I suppose he had a little face time with Bush before this day started. Now they emerge and they ride in another limousine (license number “1”, as opposed to “2” for the VP).
•    8:04    Over at the capitol, and in the seating area on the steps, we see the image of a large bald Black man. I know who it is. Brian Williams goes on for almost three minutes, identifying the man with the orange-and-black scarf as Reggie Love, Obama’s personal assistant. He continues to say and is impressed that this man is “privy” to information about the President-elect. His “wing man”. His confidant. Wow. Brian really seems so sure of himself. Only this isn’t Reggie Love. Reggie Love is at least 30 pounds lighter and younger. This dude is Craig Robinson, the President’s brother-in-law, Princeton grad (hence the colors) and men’s basketball coach at Oregon State. Jeez, Brian, on the day we usher in a Black man, do you still have trouble telling them apart. Ugh. (Oh wait! He corrects himself but oh so subtly.)
•    8:08    An image of the first ladies, Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Obama appears. They arrive separately from their husbands. Mrs. Bush is sporting a grey overcoat dress that somehow softens her. She is packing a ton of makeup once again. For one thing, isn’t she going to be cold. Mrs. Obama is resplendent in a lemongrass-colored overcoat shift dress, accented with some lime green. We find out later, thanks to Robin Givhan of the Washington Post Style section, that the dress is from a Cuban-American designer named XXX Toledo and is a bold, wonderful choice.  I agree.
•    8:10    Cabinet members –or rather designated ones, since they haven’t all been confirmed yet—are arriving. I see Nobel physicist Steven Chu, who used to be at Stanford, and will now be Secretary of Energy. He is with his wife, Jean Fetter, who used to be the Admissions Director at Stanford for many years.
•    8:12    Brian Williams is attempting to touch base with Presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Brian is rattling off dumb, “what-would-historians-say” questions and he is not being answered. Guess Beschloss isn’t around or we don’t have him hooked up to a mike.
•    8:14    Lynne Cheney appears, walking with Jill Biden. Lynne, who competes with her husband in the “Who is More Evil?” contest, is wearing a pretty intense black fur-lined coat. As is her custom, she is walking quickly and barely cracking a smile. Brian Williams reminds us that Mrs. Cheney is a “historian” like Beschloss and is a “prolific” author. Yeah, and she can destroy all of us in a flash. Tom Brokaw, prompted to agree that she is prolific, says nothing.
•    8:20     They’re showing some former leaders walking down narrow staircases, all here for the occasion. Ah! It’s the Vice Presidents and their wives. It’s Dan Quayle and his toothy wife Marilyn. It’s Al and Tipper Gore! But it’s –no, is this for real?!—it’s Walter and Joan Mondale! Really takes me back to the Carter era, this is incredible. I mean, WHEN do you see Walter Mondale, the venerable, traditional, ultimate insider from Minnesota-who-became-Ambassador-to-Japan? He looks great. Hey, he used to be the Senator from Minnesota and was a protégé of Hubert Humphrey. Sorry, but I’m getting so excited that I am standing and applauding.
•    8:28    I think that Tom Brokaw can’t resist pwning his erstwhile successor Brian Williams for thinking that Craig Robinson was Reggie Love, you know –the all Black guys look alike thing. Now the camera is all over Robinson and Brokaw is referring to the “Princeton colors” on his scarf as if to imply that Williams was stupid not to notice this.
•    8:30    They have placed the Obama girls with their grandma and their aunt (the Black Man’s wife). She is moving in to the White House too. She’ll be the First Granny. Sasha has a cool Canon camera like mine.
•    8:32    Tom Brokaw just made an unfortunate comment about Dick Cheney and his wheelchair appearance. “There are those who might say”, he starts, and says something about people calling him an evil “Dr Strangelove”. No, Tom, you’re saying this. Why do you even spread this stuff and then criticize this before the fact?
•    8:35    Michael Beschloss has appeared now, with his matted hair pressed close to his scalp. (Is this a hairpiece?) Anyways he drones on about how Bush is now a “solitary figure” as the current (well, for 25 more minutes) walks slowly and makes an appearance before the crowd. Beschloss is smart, yeah, but he’s not Doris Kearns Goodwin in his breadth of knowledge and ease of speaking. Maybe it’s his grating (or clipped) lilt in his voice.
•    8:37    Are people booing Bush? Yikes. Bad form. Uh oh. Oh well. These microphones are picking up everything.
•    8:39    Biden enters, looking obviously so very happy to be introduced and proud.
•    8:41    Even before Obama enters to the roaring crowds, they are already shouting “O-ba-ma!”
•    8:44    There he is: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President-elect of the United States, Barack H. Obama”.
•    8:45    Let’s get this party started: Chairman of the Inaugural Committee, California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein addresses the crowd and referring to a “renewed call to greatness”.
•    8:48     It’s time for this Rick Warren guy to come out and deliver the Benediction. Warren is instantly on a lot of people’s shit lists because of his endorsement of California’s Proposition 8, which passed and de-legitimized same-sex marriage. He is supposed to be some kind of unifying figure and now he wants us to pray. “History is your story”. What is he saying? Oh, he is talking about God. Wait. He is saying “You are loving to everyone you have made”. Is this some kind of conciliatory line? Isn’t this really about Proposition 8? Why didn’t he speak against this then? Yikes! Time for the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name….”
•    8:53    Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul. National treasure. She is wearing an enormous grey bow on her hat/head and she is here to sing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”. Sounds a little hoarse. Maybe it’s the freezing temperatures. OK, she hit that note all right. Yeah, she is a national and natural treasure.
•    8:58    The great John Paul Stevens, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, administers the Oath to Joe Biden. Again, he is beaming . Stevens must be in his upper 80s.
•    9:00    We bring you this musical interlude with Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma and some other musicians who are seated there a few rows behind Obama and the Presidents. They are turning their whole bodies to face the quartet, which is now building up to a nice crescendo.
•    9:04    Brian Williams chimes in that we are running late, but no matter: as of 12 noon, Barack Obama became the 44th President. Now here he on, joining Chief Justice John Roberts, who administers the Oath. What the…? Are they nervous? Who is flubbing up these lines? Roberts didn’t get the word “execute” right. That threw Obama off. Now he is stopping to make sure Roberts catches up. Nice: the entire world is watching this spectacle –billions?—and these Harvard Law School graduates cannot complete normal English sentences. You know what? This is not going to fly. I’m sure we’ll hear Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity crow about how this “Hussein” guy isn’t really President. Nope….I think that, constitutionally, they need to square this once and for all and get it right. Major yikes.
•    9:08    It’s the most important speech of his life –well, up to now. And he doesn’t disappoint. I have to say that the words are somber to me, almost an indictment of Bush and the last eight years. This a break from the past and he seems to be driving this point well. “We have chosen hope over fear”. That will be the line I remember. “The time has come to set aside childish things”. Whoa. I am very moved by his mentioning that someone like his father, a Kenyan immigrant and a Black man, couldn’t be served in a cafeteria 60 years ago and look where this Promised Land has brought us on this day.
•    9:26    It’s over. Officially 18 minutes and 10 seconds. Delivered brilliantly.
•    9:28     I’m just not feeling this poem. She is an assistant professor at Yale. Assistant? I don’t think it’s especially memorable but then again it isn’t the quaint homilies of Maya Angelou. Hey, where is Oprah?
•    9:32    To have Joseph Lowery deliver the Benediction is an instantly memorably moment. Lowery, the founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference back in 1957 and marched alongside Dr. King and has been one of the towering figures of the Civil Rights movement. To see him here, all 87 years of him, speaking with impassioned tones to God, and asking him to “protect” the new President…..He began with the Black National Anthem (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”). At the end of his speech, he delivers words that both powerful and emotionally piercing:
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen. Say Amen. And Amen. Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen. Say Amen. And Amen
•    9:47     Not much else to say. Lester Holt, who is Black, reveals to Brian and Tom that only two years separate him from Obama but confesses that he didn’t think this day would ever come. Such a sad thought, which Brian and Tom would not understand, but that’s OK.
•    9:53    Ahh, so this is what they mean by “peaceful transfer of power”. And all so ceremonial. We are watching both the Obamas and Bidens walk to the other side of the Capitol seeing the departing President and his wife depart Washington, in their last helicopter ride. At mid-step level, the new President salutes the out-going one, who is boarding the copter. And slowly but surely, it lifts off, does a once-over over the Capitol for posterity, and then heads to Andrews Air Force Base. The Bushes would later board Air Force 2 (not 1) to their home in Texas.

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