Obama's Very Name a Soothing Mantra in Difficult Times

Reporter turned editorialist Francis Clines: "The new president's name, simply his name, was just the restorative the enormous crowds needed." And a lead editorial takes cheap departing shots at Bush, who should be ashamed of himself for exploting "xenophobia" over Iraq.

There just weren't enough pages to fit the Times' Obama Inaugural hagiography, so it broke out a 32-page special section, "President Obama," that would serve well as an Obama fan souvenir. Some sample headlines: "Black Airmen, Frail but Proud, Hail Another Pioneer"; "At a School in Kansas, A Moment Resonates"; "Out of Many Televisions, One Common Experience Throughout the Nation."

The inauguration of the first black president is of course a historic event, one that even conservatives can appreciate for both historic and political reasons.

But non-stop adulation is wearying, and the Times went over the top in Wednesday's lead editorialwhile failing to show the graciousness ofmany of Obama's conservative opponents. These two paragraphs in particular served as a classless kick out the door for Bush, demanding sorrow from the 43 president and accusing him without basis of using "fear and xenophobia" to justify the Iraq War:

With Mr. Bush looking on (and we'd like to think feeling some remorse), President Obama declared: "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."...After more than seven years of Mr. Bush's using fear and xenophobia to justify a disastrous and unnecessary war, and undermine the most fundamental American rights, it was exhilarating to hear Mr. Obama reject "as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."

Times reporter turned editorial board member Francis X. Clines sang counterpoint to the editorial Bush-bashing by praising Obama with his obsequious "Editorial Observer" column,"In Washington on Inauguration Day."

Clines marveled at how the president's very name works as a healing mantra.

Four hours before the inauguration, there was enough menace in a subway crowd - a shouting throng packed together with the exits jammed - that the station master made a bad choice of announcement. "Don't panic!" he bellowed over the public address system.

In seconds, he recovered with a brilliant follow-up, a rhythmic incanting: "O-ba-ma!" The crowd picked it up instantly. "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!" Patience and celebration were restored until the crush could ease.

All the long day, it was like that. The new president's name, simply his name, was just the restorative the enormous crowds needed.

Is there a problem in the nation? Hear ordinary Americans chant: "O-ba-ma!" One tedious, serpentine line outside the Mall, its restlessness surfacing, suddenly was prodded into happiness when teenagers broke into song: "We're off to see Obama - the wonderful president of ours!"

The crowd - dense and chilled, vital and hopeful - was the place to be for savoring this day's history. There was no way not to sense, inevitably to join in, the joy that seemed to roll as a singular force across the Mall and out to the watching nation.

Clines let his liberalism show on Wednesday when he contrasted Obama's speech favorably with that by conservative president Ronald Reagan:

The inaugural crowd of Ronald Reagan had its own joy and made a great scene 28 years ago. But that felt much more about one party's victory, particularly when he denounced government itself as the problem, not the solution.

That remains a shocking notion in a democracy, and Mr. Obama took aim at it. He summoned the throng before him, and the nation all about, to abandon the "stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long." Show that government does indeed work, was his prescription, yoking the fortunes of both public and president. "We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off," said President Obama, touching the crowd's craving for something basic, something lately untried.

Clines indeed covered Reagan's January 20, 1981 inauguration for the Times,in a front-page story accompanied by theslightly snide headline "Pomp, Fur Coats and Sun for the Happy New President." He would later go on to cover the Reagan White House.

Clines sold Reagan's inauguration as more of a Republican triumphthan the joyful day for the nation that was Obama's. Yet Reagan's popular vote victory (51%-41%) over incumbent Jimmy Carter outshone Barack Obama's 53%-46% win over John McCain - meaning Reagan had just as strong a claim as a uniterback thenas Obama does today.

Some excerpts from Clines' piece on Reagan's inauguration, where a few hints of hostility peeked through the lines:

The almost balmy day saw some Republicans in the V.I.P. stands shedding their fur coats as they returned to power after a four-year absence, and they applauded, marched, danced and congratulated one another into the night at a dozen spots, with the Democrats gone from sight.

For some in the crowd, it was a test to find some bit of human scale or significant symbol in an inauguration deliberately planned as a lavish one as a sign of renewed Presidential power.


Outside, Michael McDonagh followed the parade with the relish of a historian but the ambivalence of a Democrat. ''I got involved in politics in the days of Eugene McCarthy,'' he explained. ''And I fear it's going to take 8 or 10 years before these guys are done again.''

Out on Pennsylvania Avenue, the parade of Republicans went by, oblivious, happy, incumbent.