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BEHIND THE NEWS: Inauguration eve

January 19, 2009 11:32:14 AM PST
It's not exactly Woodstock, but part of the gestalt of what's happening here in Washington, D.C. does indeed feel like a festival.

No long lines of people stopped on the Thruway, although the lines are expected to be gonzo tomorrow at the National Mall.

But there is rock-concert-like feeling here. And it's at once both exhilarating and frightening.

Exhilarating because this is -- to use cliche number 87 -- historic. On the steps of a Capitol that were built by slaves, overlooking a Mall where 160 years ago slave markets flourished, and within eyesight of the memorial to the man who helped free the slaves -- Barack Obama will take his oath of office.

That he is the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas is a story well told. And there are millions of people -- many of whom did not vote for Obama and who don't particularly care for his politics -- who are rooting mightily for him.

But there is something askew about some of this. He is an extraordinary man, to be sure. But he is facing extraordinary problems as well. And we Americans tend to try to make super heroes out of leaders. And drown them in our hopes and expectations -- some of which may be unrealistic.

I spent some time this morning with New York Gov. David Paterson, and he worries that we are putting some unrealistic expectations on the shoulders of one man. He's just one man, said the Governor. And it's up to all of us to sacrifice.

Perhaps, but in this age of instant gratification, we've also become people expecting instant solutions.

We can download software to fix a computer problem; it's not so easy to fix a systemic economic virus.

And where in the world does he begin? The economy? Well, of course. Two million more people out of work in the past year or so need tending to - as does the rest of the workforce, which is now not spending money, money that drives the consumer-dependent economy.

But running the country is about doing more than just one thing at a time. Foreign policy is as critical as the economy. And where to begin with that? Iraq? Afghanistan? Pakistan? Iran? Israel and the Palestinians? The answer is "yes."

The folks gathered here seem at times to want to forget all that, at least for this moment. I get it. I understand it. But it scares me, because it's a little like New Year's Eve - you can party and make all sorts of resolutions, but in the end, New Year's Eve is a Wednesday, and New Year's Day is a Thursday. It's all about putting one foot ahead of the other, and while it's wonderful to pause and ponder and drink in the moment, sometimes when you do that, it's easy to push the hard questions and tasks to the front.

I'm just sayin'.

This was a day of service in Washington - and there were thousands who volunteered their time on this Dr. Martin Luther King Day, to help others. Volunteering to help others was a clarion call for King, and Obama is trying to make it his as well. The President-elect put his muscle where his mouth his - he painted walls at an emergency shelter for young people.

And now - as hundreds of thousands gather - we prepare for tomorrow's inauguration. I'll be here tonight at 11, along with my colleagues Sade Baderinwa, Dave Evans, Lori Stokes and Kemberly Richardson.

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

BILL RITTER


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