01.19.09

The Daily Beast D.C. Diary

Colin Powell on what Dr. King would say today, Joe Wilson on the fin de regne of eight years of radical rule, James Clayborne on the supportive crowd, and ongoing commentary from other friends of the Daily Beast at the Inauguration.

Gen. Colin Powell, former Secretary of State to George W. Bush, on King's legacy and Obama's inauguration: Today was a joyous day for America and for all Americans. Martin Luther King Jr. is looking down smiling. But if he was here he would say, "Congratulations and now let's get on with it. We've got a lot more to do."

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Rachel Sklar, a Daily Beast contributor, on The Midwestern Ball and the Western Ball: Balls! They were everywhere last night. I attended two: The Midwestern Ball, for which I was ticketed, and the Western Ball, which I snuck into under cover of Jim Pinkerton (the Fox News contributor and former Reaganite/Huckabee advisor is very, very tall). Here's what was similar between the two balls: Giant downstairs ballroom with well-dressed people milling about; enthusiastic live band with a your-cousin's-wedding feel; large presidential seal for posing under; food stations with overcooked pasta, a chicken pate roll-thing that may have, in fact, been tofu, and raw veggies with ranch dressing; and long lines for tickets for the cash bar, followed by long lines for the bar (final indignity for the committed partygoer: two-drink minimum!).

The Western Ball had a few more recognizable faces floating around—I used a bathroom stall after Cheryl Hines; she left it very clean—but the overall feeling was of attending that cousin's very nice, very well-appointed wedding where you knew no one and didn't really want to bother trying. Even the momentary promise of presidential attendance—no one could leave or enter for 30 minutes—never came to be, as just as suddenly traffic in and out freed up again. That was enough for us. My friend, Curbed founder Lockhart Steele, decided that rather than brave the drink lines he'd just give his leftover drink tickets to the first person who came off the escalator. It was Blair Underwood. We left anyway.

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Charles Ogletree, Harvard Law professor and mentor to both Barack and Michelle Obama, on Obama's speech: President Obama offered a very inclusive Inaugural Address and made it clear that he is ready, willing, and able to take on the enormous challenges we face in trying to stabilize our economy and keep us safe from terrorist attacks. At the same time he also expressed a willingness to be more open to a broad coalition of countries that support the concept of both peace and prosperity. His message reflected a keen sense of how the world that his father and Dr. Martin Luther King knew has changed, and that the son of an African could be elected president of the United Sates There was also a hopefully inspiring message to young people, to recognize both the opportunities they have to make the world better and their obligation to carry on the work of those who sacrificed so much for the opportunities they have today. What I ultimately took away from the Inaugural Address is that President Obama has spoken to the people in both the formally segregated neighborhood in Kansas and the small village in Kenya that were the birthplaces of his mother and father. He's the first president with not only a global heritage, but also someone who has overcome the challenges of poverty and despair to become the leader of our global democratic society. It is now time for all of us to take up President Obama's challenge and begin the work of changing America in ways we never imagined.

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Joseph C. Wilson IV, who served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 23 years and is married to Valerie Plame, the covert CIA officer unmasked by Bush administration officials, on watching the end of eight years of "radical rule": Having been intimately involved in the debate against the second Gulf War and having endured the vicious character assassination campaign of the Bush administration and the right-wing echo chamber, I fully expected to be elated by the fin de regne of the radical rule we have endured over the past eight years Indeed, a number of friends and acquaintances had gleefully written to suggest that Dick Cheney's back problems were a result of his moving documents related to his role in betraying the identity of my wife, Valerie, a covert CIA officer. And I had tears in my eyes as I realized the historic consequence of the investiture of the first black president of the United States of America, and the hope it represents even as we face difficult circumstances.

But the departure of the Bush-Cheney administration and the neoconservative clique that owned the foreign policy that did so much harm to our standing in the world was anti-climatic, even for one, like me, so immersed in the fights of that time. Today is a day to celebrate the history of our nation, warts and all. It is a day to be reminded, as we are every four years, of the sanctity of our republic, and its consecration in the peaceful transfer of power. Most of all, it is a day that helped us realize the vision of the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal," the intent of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Fourteenth Amendment, the dream of the Civil Rights movement, and the commitment of the Voting Rights Act and other legislation from that time. This day the Obamas have made us all proud.

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Illinois State Sen. James Clayborne Jr., an Obama friend since 1996, on the crowd's hunger for change: I was at the Inauguration, on the southwest side of the Capitol, and a warm feeling went through my heart when Barack took the Oath of office. People were so emotional and crying. I hate to use this cliché of change, but I think the people around me today were really looking for a new day of government. People anticipated this was going to be such a wonderful day, with so many positive things. People weren't let down. It was almost like a sigh of relief went through us when we saw him take the oath. I thought his speech touched on the themes of Barack's campaign, but also touched on the bipartisan nature of how he wants to run things. My biggest concern is if Congress is ready for the change Barack is wanting. He wants everyone to know they matter. When he waved, I saw people respond in ways people never have before. I see what he generates. I never thought Id' see this day, and I'm so glad I did.

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U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, on the ceremony and the speech: I had a good seat for ceremony-they had a special arrangement for members of Congress behind the podium, and I was able to see all the special guests, all the past presidents and other figures who were there, and I was absolutely focused on Barack Obama and the oath and his speech. I thought that it was a wonderful event, people were up, very happy, everybody was greeting each other with a lot of love and respect, and of course our new president gave a powerful speech identifying some of the problems about today, but more than that talking about the hope and ability to meet any challenge. I felt very good, the weather was not bad, and this is a very, very special day that will be recorded in history.

My favorite moments of his speech were his references to our being able to meet the challenge both in addressing the problems in our country and keeping our country safe, and he talked about diplomacy in so many ways. He especially spoke to people of various religions and our willingness to meet those who are adversaries. The phrase was "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist"-to say that we will get along. It was a very good speech.

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Bettye LaVette, soul singer who performed "A Change Is Gonna Come" at the "We Are One" concert Sunday night, on locking eyes with the president-elect: When my career started 47 years ago, I was playing in front of audiences I couldn't stay with. The first time I came to Washington, D.C., we had to stay in rooming houses. And now this guy is in the White House.

At the concert on Sunday night, before my song I'd asked the stage manager, "Where is he?" And he said stage right. So in the middle of the song I turned and looked and Obama was on the stage, the whole group of them, and my eyes were just fixed on his for a moment. I was singing the line "I always believed that a change would come," and just as I turned, our eyes locked and he was mouthing the words along.

Of all the performances I've ever done, that was my unbelievable moment. I'm just so excited. I'm thrilled and completely full, I feel like I did when my daughter was born, like the first time I got arrested-I'm feeling every emotion right now. If my mother wasn't dead this would kill her.

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Tina Brown, on the crowd on the Capitol: I watched Bruce Springsteen walking onto the stage with a boy who must have been his son. While I was sitting on a bench nursing a hot chocolate, I was hailed by a jovial Jesse Jackson wearing a black trilby hat and accompanied by his wife and daughter. Now I'm sitting on the wall in the orange section, southwest of the Capitol, with Gen. Wesley Clark a few feet away. The marines lined up in their white hats look so proud and dignified. There is a damn tree in front of the Jumbotron, so we can only see half of each dignitary's face. But it's worth it to be with all this joy and affirmation.

 

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Michael Stipe, R.E.M. vocalist, on his plans for the swearing in: There's a kind of bristling energy that I haven't felt in D.C. in a very long time, if ever. I'm going to the Mall tomorrow as a citizen, no VIP ticket. The cold isn't that bad.

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Harriette Cole, creative director of Ebony magazine, on her ancestors: I started out last night at the Watergate, at one of the many house parties being hosted, this one by Reggie Van Lee, an executive at Booz Allen. A crush of people came in, mostly African-American business leaders and entertainers, dressed up and smiling, sharing their joy and connection at this momentous time. I left to head downtown, to Russell Simmons's party and then to the Huffington Post ball. But dressed up in my gown, I ended up feeling like a duped Cinderella: The security you've been reading about was real. My fabulous driver tried every street he knew, but we couldn 't get within fifteen blocks of my destination. And on such an extremely cold night, walking that far was not a smart option. So I ended up back at the Four Seasons Hotel. Samuel L. Jackson was there, momentarily, as had been the night before. But it was mostly just folks in pretty clothes sitting around, eating and drinking and buzzing about Obama.

I was disappointed at first to miss those great parties. But I was also still. And that turned out to be a blessing. Becoming still helped me remember the import of the moment we are about to experience. Barack Obama is about to become our president. This is historic. It is beautiful and great cause for dressing up and sharing special smiles. But it is also sobering. I remember my ancestors now. My great-great grandmother Harriette Ann, for whom I am named, who received her manumission in 1860 and then bought her husband's freedom a short while later—walking many miles from Calvert County, Maryland, to Annapolis to close the transaction. My grandmother, Carrie Freeland, who lived to be 101 and was proud to say that she lived long enough to be able to vote for a Black man to become mayor of Baltimore. My father, Harry Augustus Cole, who became the first black state senator in Maryland in 1956. My uncle, Wendell Grimke Freeland, my mother's brother, is 83 years old and here at the Inauguration as a Tuskegee airman. Uncle Wendell is an attorney, a man who changed his party affiliation so he could vote for Obama in the Pennsylvania primary. (He says he had to change it back as he runs a Republican PAC in Pittsburgh.) Uncle Wendell will be seated with honor at this occasion. My list goes on. And all of it inspires me, as it regularly does, to be my best. Seeing Barack Obama step up and into this role inspires me to remember the greatness of my past—our past—and to step forward with conscious and intentional steps to design the best future possible.

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Heather Graham, actress, on the weather: I'm so excited to be an American at this historical moment. I'm going to do a mime routine. [Does mime.] I have a really nice hotel room. It's warm. I'm not going to the inauguration tomorrow because it seemed too cold.

 

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Ben Crair, a Daily Beast staffer, on the happy crowds on the National Mall: I was standing in the same place at the Mall entrance near First Street for more than an hour. While packing for D.C., I remembered, I'd looked at my wool socks and thought, by some obscene logic, "Nah, I won't need them." Today, my feet became phantom limbs. Every sixty seconds, the flashing man on the walk signal at the intersection up ahead mocked us with his confident stride: Surrounded by a crush of spectators, it was impossible for any of us to move. Families clinging to each other like refugees. There was an abundance of older women in fur coats. Someone nearby had an upset stomach. Oh-so-witty attendees saw no diminishing return on the hilarity of telling the stalled crowd to keep moving. A woman next to me was on her cell phone, reporting that the crowd on Third Street was "angry." The crowd at First was relatively calm, appeased, in part, by periodic, spontaneous outbursts of the Star-Spangled Banner.

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Louise Cole, from Okolona, Miss., waiting for the Inauguration on the Mall: I grew up in the South with Jim Crow. This morning I just sat down and cried. My feet are cold, but there are so many people of color who had to endure so much worse than that. I'm here in their honor

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Robin Roberts, Good Morning America anchor, on her mother's excitement: I'm seeing this inauguration through my mother's 85-year-old eyes. She is here with me in D.C. and will be at the inauguration. Her husband, my beloved departed father, was a Tuskegee Airman. He was part of a segregated military. My mom will be filled with emotion when she witnesses the swearing in of an African-American commander-in-chief. Yes we can.

 

Moby, on the MoveOn.org party: I try to avoid political parties, because they tend to be a little stiff and filled with lobbyists. But this one, people are here to have fun and get fucked up. I'm going to DJ.

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Rachel Sklar, a Daily Beast contributor, on the Huffington Post ball: The first thing you saw walking down to the Huffington Post party at the Newseum was the crowd. The line to get in stretched along the building and swelled to a sort of generalized melee around the doors, which were blocked off by a velvet rope, three clipboardistas, and two very large bouncers. If you didn't have a purple plastic wristband—issued over the previous three days to VIPs—you were literally out in the cold. Once you were in, there was another line—or another three lines, to be precise. On the left was an express lane of sorts—I saw Jesse Jackson whisked down it, and could only think, "Nuts!"—and on the right was a regular line, where the wristband-less could check-in, once they'd finally made it through the doors.

I watched the passing throngs at the entrance, as I waited for the Jonas Brothers to arrive—the Bros. were reportedly on their way at the behest of Disney CEO Bob Iger and his wife, Willow Bay, a HuffPo editor-at-large. Waiting for them to to fight their way through road traffic, I watched the human traffic, including MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who was bewildered to walk in and find himself at the very end of another long line. "This is insane," he exclaimed. "I RSVP'd. I've never been invited to a place like this." He walked out; but he was back, that time hurried to the red carpet, as befits his status. By then the crush had eased somewhat—Willow and Bob had arrived sans a Jonas (the brothers were still stuck in traffic and would arrive later). I proceeded down the wristband line, right behind Michael J. Fox. And then, finally, we entered, at last free to party across three packed floors. But first, we had to get through coat check.

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Ana Marie Cox, a Daily Beast contributor, on the scene at the Huffington Post ball: The HuffPo party has a gospel choir on the ground floor and house music playing upstairs. I stood in the VIP line behind Ron Brownstein, the Atlantic Media political director and a local celeb, but still had to wait an hour to check our coats. A woman in black wearing a headset stumped me when I entered by asking if I was "press or a guest." Um: Both?

The gospel choir was, of course, the largest concentration of black people at the event, and to get from the coat check area to the party proper you have to pass in front of them on stage. It is the white-guilt gauntlet. There were waiters with trays full of drinks standing behind the gospel choir, like someone might release the hounds.

There was no VIP room, as far as I could tell—Ashton and Demi were crushed in the sweaty mass with the rest of us. I was sweetly impressed with the numerous California big-time donors here. "We met Chris Matthews," one tells me when asked to recite the highlight of the week so far. "And Wolf Blitzer!" I point out Jesse Jackson behind this California big-shot, and as she turns around he smiles and greets her by name. The party was rumored to cost $1 million. But actual celebrities in D.C.? Priceless.

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William Watley, from Newark, N.J., waiting on the Mall: I was born in Missouri in 1947. I have 4 generations here with me, my mother, my kids, and my grandkids. I never thought I would see the day.

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The scene at New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's party, at her rowhouse in Georgetown Saturday night: The Washington, D.C., fire marshal must be a Democrat, or else a big Times op-ed fan, because the crowd at Maureen Dowd's house violated every safety code on the books. Dowd had 500 guests to her party, afraid that the "yield" would be paltry on a night with so many other glamorous pre-inauguration events, reported one pancaked guest struggling to make his way out the front door. The worry was misplaced. Judging by the crush midway through the party, nearly everyone showed up, although not everyone went in, discouraged by the gridlock they observed from the sidewalk.

There was gridlock, too, on the narrow staircase to the third floor, where David Geffen and George Lucas were entertained by Dowd in the first hour of the party. Larry David and Ron Howard were also part of a robust Hollywood contingent, which may be what atttracted New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams. Brian Williams, Jill Abramson, and Andrea Mitchell and Alan Greenspan were gamely trying to wiggle into the party as we were leaving. Bob Woodward and Chris Matthews were attempting to leave. There were warnings that the coat-check had already devolved into complete chaos.

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David Axelrod, senior advisor to President-elect Barack Obama, on what he's been up to: The days have been long, intermittent calls and writing, interspersed with events. It's a once-in-a-lifetime moment. All of us who worked on it appreciated it, so I'm trying to do what I can to enjoy it while maintaining my responsibilities."

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Christopher Hitchens, author and journalist, on the party he hosted at his home Saturday night: My hope when I woke up was to get the three Bs—Buzz, Bo, and Bono, as in Aldrin, Derek, and of course the lead singer of U2. We got Buzz. We got Bo. We didn't get Bono. But we got his guitarist. As for the rest, it was mostly journalists.

I'm still annoyed by the maximum security. I'm very angry at the way Americans act as if all of them are guilty until proven innocent. They're just coming to see what it's their right to see. But then, I see that the soldiers at the checkpoints are taking pictures with their cameraphones. One of them stopped me and introduced himself. It really is a great country.

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Illinois State Sen. James Clayborne Jr., an Obama friend since 1996, on Martin Luther King's dream: Dr. King said you measure a man at a time of challenge and controversy. It's clear Barack will have some challenges. But I think Barack is part of what King dreamed about. I'm so excited for our country. All that hard work for those individuals who made sacrifices for us, who walked the streets and those who boycotted the buses. There are a lot of unsung heroes. King represents that movement—so many of those who died, and living and had that same vision.

I'm seeing so much energy on the streets and so much excitement. People from all races coming together to celebrate this momentous event. Barack has inspired so much hope and determination. I've been to several inaugurations, but I've never seen this kind of excitement. There's just so much positive energy. It seems like everyone seems to have an emotional tie to this event. People from all hues, and all ethinc backgrounds. That's been the most poignant thing for me in D.C. so far..

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Gayle King, editor-at-large for O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine, on Obama's arrival in Washington: I watched that train arrive, and the people were going bananas just looking at it. They couldn't even see Obama, just the train.

 

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Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, on the mood in Washington: We're here in D.C. on Martin Luther King Day, and it's hard to escape thinking about Robert Kennedy's dream of the first African-American President. I've come to all these Inaugurations, but there's never been one like this. It's all so poignant. It's just exhilarating. It's the fact America isn't just turning a page, but a whole new chapter. That's only really happened three times before: FDR in 1933, John F. Kennedy in 1961, and Ronald Reagan in 1981. All three of those were era-turning moments. And that's what tomorrow will be.

It's amazing for me to see how many different and interesting Americans are in town. I got to talk to young people from Iowa who are playing music at the Inauguration tomorrow and visiting D.C. for the first some. Their excitement in seeing the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials was amazing to me. Then I got to talk to Buzz Aldrin about Mars exploration. He was talking to me now about anything being possible--like settlements on Mars. For me as a historian to take the pulse of the country and to get different ideas that are generating in D.C. right now is wonderful.

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Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, on how Washington has changed: This may sound crazy but I think Washington D.C. is much friendlier. I think there is a greater respect for the real citizens of Washington, who are African Americans.

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Mo Rocca, comedian, and political satirist, on his hopes for the inauguration: I'm least looking forward to the enormous pressure put on all of us to appear to be moved. I just don't cry on cue. I may take the Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button approach—a more muted, still-waters-run-deeply approach.

And I'm looking forward to any event Access Hollywood will be at. When was the last time Access Hollywood was in D.C.? Access Hollywood coming to the Council on Foreign Relations? Don't you think they expected Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas?

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Rachel Sklar, Daily Beast contributor, on Obama swag you can believe in: The streets of Washington, D.C., were filled on Sunday—not only with people streaming toward the Lincoln Memorial for the concert, but also with vendors hawking all the shirts, buttons, hats, scarves, posters, dolls, watches, books, pens, cards, and other assorted tchotchkes those concert-goers couldn't possibly leave inauguration without. Slogans like "Barack Obama--A New Day for America," "Change Is Coming!" and the ever-ubiquitous "Yes, We Can" covered pretty much every available sellable surface.

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Walking down 17th Street toward the Memorial: Framed photos of Obama and MLK with the slogan, "The Dream Is Real." Tie-dyed t-shirts with peace-sign Os in "Obama" and "08." Buttons of Obama nuzzling Michelle with his eyes half-closed in intimacy. (Ew.) There were also essentials like hand-warmers, tissues, and, of course, food to feed the hungry crowds—though the Obama-shilling stopped short of the Polish sausage stand.

I shopped in a store called the Chocolate Moose, which offered not only Obama-endorsed salted caramels but also Obama-themed mint tins ("Peppermints We Can Believe In!" "Mints for Obama!"), which will presumably keep your breath as minty-fresh as a New Day in America, and also "The Audacity of Soap," which is soap. It's made with glycerin, coconut oil, and "fragrance," and probably wasn't worth $9.50. But I'm confident it will get me as clean as Rahm Emanuel will keep both houses of Congress.

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Harold Ford Jr., former congressman and current Democratic Leadership Council chairman, on American renewal: The presidential inauguration tomorrow is historic-as they all are-not just because our new president is the son of a black Kenyan man and a white American woman. Nor is it historic just because our new president's middle name is the same as the last name of the late Iraqi tyrant whose belligerence confused and caused U.S. foreign- and military-policy leaders to believe that war against Saddam Hussein was more important to America's security than finding Osama Bin Laden. Tomorrow is historic because America's capacity to challenge and renew itself peacefully is what distinguishes and establishes our political tradition as the best the world has ever known.

When Dr. King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 in Oslo, he said that he accepted the prize on behalf of the millions of Americans relentlessly striving to make America a safer, more peaceful, more humane, and more democratic place for all its citizens. King especially hailed the nonviolent approach of his movement as one of the key reasons for its success. As I watch millions of Americans descend on Washington, I'm struck by a lot-the enormity and complexity of challenges facing our new President, the humility of the new President's children and the impressive transition team assembled. But what stands out for me is how we as a country and people are unafraid to renew ourselves with peace, dignity, and purpose.

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John Avlon, Daily Beast columnist and former speechwriter, on Obama foreshadowing his inaugural address: The real news of the past few days may be Obama's foreshadowing of the inaugural address. The rhetoric offered at the whistle-stops soared far past typical meet-and-greets. They sounded to this speechwriter's ear as the president-elect working with language, trying out different articulations. Remember, this is our first president since Theodore Roosevelt who has made most of his money as an author. The themes are as big as they get: the ongoing American revolution, and a new declaration of independence:

"We should never forget that we are the heirs of those early patriots, ordinary men and women who refused to give up when it all seemed so improbable; and who somehow believed that they had the power to make the world anew. That is the spirit that we must reclaim today. The American Revolution did not end when British guns fell silent. It was never something to be won only on a battlefield or fulfilled only in our founding documents. The American Revolution was—and remains—an ongoing struggle in the minds and hearts of the people to live up to our founding creed. Starting now, let's take up in our own lives the work of perfecting our union."

I would not be surprised if those themes were repeated on Tuesday—along with a broad outline of the forward-looking policy priorities of his administration. And look for a heavy dose of post-partisanship, consistent with Obama's philosophy since he began his career in public service. As he said while boarding the train in Philadelphia: "What's required is a new declaration of independence—from ideology and small thinking.'"

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Harriette Cole, creative director of Ebony magazine, on Washington's sidewalk scene: D.C. has become a fabulous pedestrian town. There are also more women than you'd expect with bare legs and fabulous summer sandals-myself included-braving these somewhat frigid nights to look just as cute as we can. People are talking and laughing with each other, even when they don't know each other--just like we did on that fortuitous night in Grant Park. There is a connectedness that warms the soul. I am honored to be a part of it.

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Charlotte Alter, a student in Henry Louis Gates's Intro to African-American Studies class at Harvard, on the inaugural ball hosted by the The Root, the Washington Post-owned online magazine edited by Gates: The new black establishment had its coming-out party at The Root Ball, held at the Smithsonian last night, and after two hours of dancing to DJ Biz Markie, it's an establishment that seems pretty cool. The gala was hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Root's editor-in-chief, and Donald Graham, CEO of the Washington Post Company, which publishes the online magazine focused on black issue. The only seemingly stuffed shirts at the party were actors impersonating Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln; everyone else was too busy dancing to be full of themselves. Oprah Winfrey was there, plus Diane Von Furstenberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, Chris Tucker, Natalie Portman, and a half-dozen star-struck Harvard kids from Professor Gates's class.

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When Gates invited his students to the ball, many of us saw it as a change to rub shoulders with the black intellectuals who'd written our textbook. So it wasn't surprising to see Michael Eric Dyson or Alice Walker boogying down. But we didn't expect was to find new Meet The Press moderator David Gregory grooving to Beyonce's "Single Ladies." Stokely Carmichael didn't expect the dawn of Black Power to be integrated, or jovial, or have a snappy rhythm. But last night it seemed more fun to be part of the system than to rage against it. "I have lived to see the impossible," Gates said from the stage last night. And the crowd kept dancing.