Saturday, January 17, 2009

Off track 1

Malcolm regards the BBC with great affection. Inevitably, though, he likes to point out their errors.

So, as the first of two grouses, he starts with the story of the day:
Obama begins historic rail trip

US President-elect Barack Obama is retracing the steps of Abraham Lincoln as he travels from Philadelphia to Washington to assume the presidency...

The train will pass slowly though towns so Mr Obama can greet crowds, and make a number of stops for public events.

It mirrors the journey Mr Lincoln made as he travelled to Washington in 1861.
Largely true, except that it wasn't like that for Lincoln.

Lincoln came to town in secret, and for good reasons:
in the early morning of an icy winter day -- of the twenty-third of February, 1861, to be exact ...

As Washburne watched the sleepy travellers disembark, he wished he had brought with him at least half-a-dozen Federal guards. Since the guards were just coming off night duty, no one would think it odd if they should converge, in a casual sort of way, upon the depot. But the other half of the semi-official Joint Congressional Committee of Two, Senator William H. Seward of New York had said, "No, we don't want to draw any attention to our visitor. You and I wil be enough. Since the always-mysterious Seward had then chosen not to come to the depot, only the House of Representatives was represented in the stout person of Elishu B. Washburne, who was, suddenly, attracted to a plainly criminal threesome. To the left, a small sharp-eyed man with one hand plunged deep into his overcoat pocket where the outline of a derringer was visible. To the right, a large thick-set young man with both hands in his pockets -- two pistols? In the centre, a tall thin man with a soft slouch hat pulled over his eyes like a burglar, and a short overcoat whose collar was turned up, so that nothing was visible between cap and collar but a prominent nose and high cheekbones covered with yellow skin, taut as a drum. In his left hand he clutched a leather grip-sack containing, no doubt, the tools of his sinister trade.

As the three men came abreast of Washburne, the Congressman said, "Well, you can't fool me, Abe."

The small man turned fiercely on Washburne, hand half out of his overcoat pocket. revealing the derringer's barrel. But the tall man said, "It's all right, Mr Pinkerton. This is Congressman Washburne. He is our welcoming committee."

Warmly, Washburne shook the hand of his old friend the President-elect of the United States, Abraham Lincolm, a fellow politician from Illinois, who was supposed to be murdered later on in the day at Baltimore.
Gore Vidal is writing fiction, but, in all truth, so do many academic historians, without acknowledging it. Vidal defended his version of Lincoln in detail, and we can take much of this version on trust.

New Tenants

As for the conquering hero, arriving at Union Station on Sunday, Marc Fisher had a nice piece on the WaPo site. Wry, entertaining, imaginative, even informative.

The opener sets the tone:
Welcome to the neighborhood, President-elect and Mrs. Obama. The last tenant, frankly, didn't much like it here, but don't let that sway you. The house is old and drafty, but it has beaucoup curb appeal, a crackerjack staff that conveys, and the words "24-hour security" -- well, they don't even come close.
Malcolm, an infrequent visitor to DeeCee, recalls mainly the sweltering soup of summer. The pert piece, his youngest daughter, recommends the cherry-blossom season. For the next few years -- let us hope, all the way to January 2017 --, this will be the space in which the incoming President must operate. He is not a total stranger here, after his term in the Senate, so presumably he has some grasp of the lay-out. And, presumably too, he knows the seasonal changes -- though Senators, like Presidents, mainly operate in secluded, air-conditioned exclusivity.

As Fisher points up, this is likely to be the start and finish of Obama's domestic problems:
Your security forces are happiest if you never leave the building. Your sanity and the health of the nation demand, however, that you get out often. Alas, you gum up traffic every time you exit the gates in daylight. Commuters grumble at the sight of your motorcade.
So Fisher's solution:
Go out at night... Check out the nation's second-best theater town (and take the kids) ... high school ball in Prince George's County, ... Don't let theWhite House crowd limit you to their tired and stuffy restaurant hangouts. Branch out. Start off by inviting George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen in to brief you on why a stimulus package won't do the trick, then get into his invaluable Ethnic Dining Guide.
This begins to sound like a sanity-saving recipe. Which is why, presumably, it will not happen.

Obama looks like being the most-integrated, most-cultured, best-adjusted, least-weird, least-artificial President in decades. By general acceptance, he is the world's current best hope. He comes wrapped in expectations which he cannot possibly fulfil. Yet, he must try. And, for those legendary hundred days, at least, he must give the impression of eighteen-hour working days, and a frenzy of initiative and effort.

Already the first groans of radical disappointment cannot be far behind. Sphere: Related Content


yourcousin said...

Already the first groans of radical disappointment cannot be far behind

My family has been groaning since the primaries. Although it has more to do with my constant ramblings than Obama's failure to live up expectation.

But just don't say I didn't warn you all.

marcfisher said...

Many thanks for the kind words about the column.

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