History made, now the future

November 5, 2008 1:27:32 PM PST
Back on the last night of the Democratic National Convention, I introduced my son to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who promptly grabbed my 13-year-old and hugged him.

My son seemed both shocked and excited. He knew this was a famous guy, but he was much more intrigued with Jackson's son, the Congressman from Chicago, Jesse Jackson Jr.

I didn't make that big a deal out of the encounter, except to explain to him Rev. Jackson's history - the good and bad of it, including that day in Memphis in 1968, when he stood on a motel balcony and saw his mentor, Martin Luther King, assassinated.

I'm not sure my son understood the emotion behind Jackson's hug on that August night in Denver, but it was clear to me. This process of Barack Obama's running for and getting the nomination, was about the future, and, for Jackson at that moment, seeing my son witness all this, was apparently emotional.

But I think my man-child understands what happened to him at Invesco Field a little bit better today, the day after Obama's stunning victory over John McCain, and the day after he saw the aforementioned Rev. Jackson on TV, tears running down his cheeks as he waited at Grant Park in Chicago, for Obama to give his election night victory speech.

For a country that was founded with slavery as a given, that fought a civil war to liberate slaves, and that underwent a political and cultural revolution over the question of civil rights, it is difficult to overstate the significance of Obama's election.

He said it best perhaps in his speech - there's no excuse anymore; anything's possible.

It's especially true for people in our area. Blacks in New York represent 25 percent of the City's population.

One in four New Yorkers is African American.

That's the largest black population of any city in the country.

Not surprisingly, the initial estimates are that Obama got 100% of the black vote in New York City. Which is why there is, in our City today, extra celebrating. Not just of democracy in action. Not just of a new President, but of a huge barrier removed.

So -- let the celebrating begin.

And end.

Make no mistake, this new President has much to do, and it won't be easy. The country's a mess-- that's one reason Obama was elected; nearly three out of every four Americans say the nation is on the wrong track. And they've chosen Obama, thinking he can fix it.

Back in the day, a President-elect would go off on vacation after the election. I'll bet the mortgage Mr. Obama doesn't do that. And it's not just a question of image, like it was last night, when Obama ordered his staff to cancel the planned fireworks extravaganza in Chicago. Wouldn't look good or appropriate, he said.

The new President has 75 days to get his new Administration ready to govern. The last two Presidents didn't handle transition very well. Bill Clinton was so disorganized that he didn't have a full staff or cabinet by the time of his inauguration. And George W. Bush, you'll recall, didn't even know he was President for weeks because of the Florida recount and the Supreme Court challenges. He, too, wasn't prepared by inauguration day.

Obama can't afford to dally.

And he's not, at least based on today's activities. He's already picked a transition team, and several Democrats confirmed he's tapped Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, a former aide to Pres. Clinton and a friend of Obama's, to be his Chief of Staff - the man who controls the pulse of the White House. (You can follow the transition to the new government with a new feature on 7online.com. Click here.)

Obama also can't afford distraction. Bill Clinton for some reason decided that gays in the military was an important issue, and it proved a huge distraction from his primary goal: fixing the economy. George W. Bush spent the first few months in office, as I recall, giving nicknames to all the Congressional representatives and having BBQ's at the White House. Then, after Sept. 11, when he had the world's sympathy and support, he squandered it with an ill-fated invasion in Iraq.

Obama can't afford these missteps. He promised to fix the economy and end the war. He's got to start doing that post-haste.

The Republican Party also will start working hard, or at least it should, to rebuild itself. The conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh is already gearing up for his campaign against Barack Obama, and against the moderate folks in the G.O.P.

McCain's whole campaign, says Limbaugh, was a concession speech. So Limbaugh will lead the effort from the right - and expect him to enlist and support Sarah Palin. Polls may have showed that she cost McCain votes, but she could be a force for the right-wing of the Party in the future.

Will McCain be able to fight that? Hard to imagine. His was a poorly run campaign - with messages changing daily, unvetted decisions, the list goes on. The selection of Palin took away one of the most legitimate arguments McCain had against Obama - his lack of experience. Once Palin was named, the inexperience issue was off the table.

And did McCain have to run such a negative campaign? We saw flashes of the old-McCain -- on Saturday Night Live, at the Al Smith Dinner, on Letterman. Where was that John McCain - the self-deprecating, funny, take-shots-at-everyone McCain?

During his concession speech, which was gracious and smart and offered huge olive branches, the audience booed when Obama's name came up. There was scattered applause when Obama mentioned McCain's name half an hour later. I wonder if, had the election gone the other way, whether Obama supporters would have booed McCain's name?

Tonight at 11, our political reporter Dave Evans is in Chicago, where Obama spent the day in meetings, planning his new Administration. And our Jen Maxfield is taking a look at the challenges Obama faces in trying to right the economy.

We're also covering the financial crisis that has befallen the New York City budget. Mayor Bloomberg, who earlier this week bypassed the will of the voters by extending the term limits law from two terms to three so he can run again, said that there's now a $4 billion gap between now and fiscal 2010. He says the City will lose 147,000 jobs next year - more than a fifth of those in the financial sector. (Read More)

Tonight, Jeff Pegues looks at the services that will be affected by the Mayor's dramatic budget cuts - including some of the low-income kids who will no longer have access to dental care at the more than 40 Health Department-run dental clinics in the City.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark, with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER


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