- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

The presidential inauguration of Barack Obama will be remembered as a pivotal day for America, but its significance may take years to sort out.

The convergence of history, politics and public interest has made the event larger than life and a global symbol of good will - despite some indecorous underpinnings. Mr. Obama has inspired lofty commentary, breathless press coverage and sparkling optimism, along with such kitschy touches as Obama-themed lava lamps.

The “people’s inauguration” also includes a reported $170 million worth of celebrity-driven festivities, 4,000 credentialed journalists and a 42,500-member security force.

For all the hubbub and spectacle, it was Malia Obama, 10, who summarized the situation best.

“First African-American president,” she told her father, who comes to power at a time of extraordinary national challenges. “Better be good.”

The nation’s collective emotions provide a study in contrasts, between Americans who weep for joy and cynics who grumble about the cost. Democrats rejoice, Republicans sulk. Historians and psychologists argue over what it all means.

Meanwhile, blacks and whites are sharing the moment.

“This year has culminated in a triumph that belongs to every American, and it must be clearly understood by all of us that Obama was elected to be the president of all the people of our nation, not just black Americans,” said Earl G. Graves, founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine.

But Americans also will share the experience with the rest of the planet. Some analysts predict the worldwide audience for the inauguration - on television, on radio, online, in movie theaters and even on shortwave radio - will be in the hundreds of millions, besting the Super Bowl in scope and impact.

Much of the inauguration is framed in monumental terms: Ron Fournier of the Associated Press termed it “powerful and poetic.” Coverage on CNN will focus on the “magnitude of the moment,” said Jon Klein, the network’s president.

The aftermath is even more significant, Mr. Graves said.

“Let us be clear. The presidential inauguration of Obama is not just about one, world-changing moment. For African-Americans, it marks the birth of a new movement, one with a simple defining creed: No more excuses,” he said.

“To our young black men, too many of whom have been allowed to embrace the sin of low expectation: No more excuses. To black professionals lamenting racism on the job while worshipping daily at the altar of personal mediocrity: No more excuses,” he said.

As cultural force, Mr. Obama benefited from ethnic minorities who preceded him in sports and entertainment, said Jabari Asim, author of the book “What Obama Means,” which will be published Tuesday.

“We’ve already had Obamas in those fields,” Mr. Asim said.

He said the U.S. is not yet a “post-racial nation,” though Americans have matured.

“People are more complicated and sophisticated than we give them credit for,” he said.

The Obama presidency is also used as the litmus test of racism in America - still a work in progress, perhaps.

A CNN survey of 1,245 adults released Monday revealed that 52 percent of blacks and 41 percent of whites said race relations will always be a problem in the U.S. Still, 44 percent of blacks and a quarter of whites said the nation had reached “a new era” in race relations.

Mr. Obama, meanwhile, enjoys remarkable favorability ratings - around 80 percent according to multiple surveys. Those good feelings, however, are tempered by sobering concerns about the economy, terrorism and the vulnerability of the American way of life.

“It’s a mixed mood out there,” pollster John Zogby said. “The public is dour, and why wouldn’t they be? An overwhelming majority of Americans feel that the economy will either stay bad or get worse. But there doesn’t seem to be buyer’s remorse with Barack Obama. He has generated excitement - and a realistic enthusiasm.”

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