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Elections ’08

Inauguration ’09 – THE DAY IT HAPPENED

January 20th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Two million people–actually more, I’m sure of it—
were in it together.

On Tuesday morning, my friend and I took the Metro part way to the National Mall but, by Dupont Circle, we decided it was best to get out and walk.

The walk had its own extraordinary nature. For block after block on each of the streets that radiate out from the mall, hundreds of thousands of people strode together with steady optimism. This went on for hours, I’ve never seen anything like it. Ever. Not even close.

There was also the New Best Friend factor. It seemed that everyone one met Tuesday morning—on the metro ride, on the long walk to the mall, on the mall itself—was automatically a friend, a temporary family member, a companero.


The crowd’s delirious cheer was also part gasp when the new President-to-be finally became visible on the JumboTrons and began his walk into history, his expression at once dignified, emotional, fully-conscious of the moment.

As for Barack’s inaugural speech, some thoughts:

More than any other president within memory, Barack Obama has a deep understanding of the power of words to inspire, motivate and heal. As I’ve mentioned here with boring frequency, prior to being in DC, I spent the last ten days in the company of two hundred writers at Bennington College. And, among writers, there is the strong feeling that, “Hey, this guy’s one of us.” In other words, Barack is not just an exceptionally smart man and an avid reader, he is a writer.

So as I listened to the sobering and moving content of Obama’s speech from my cold windy perch near the Washington monument, amid a sea of expectant humanity, I found myself noting things like his word choices.

I noticed, for example, how often the man used nice, strong, active verbs, just the way we hector our writing students to do.

He told troublesome world leaders that America will “extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” And “…know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”


He talked about a “firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke.”

I also noted the symphonic structure of Obama’s speech, with repeating refrains and well-orchestrated rises and falls in emphasis and intensity. To pick one example:

“Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true.”

The word patterns are poetic….new…new…old …true. As the speech moves along, the ideas build on one another until they acquire the rhythmic heft of a church hymn, full of major chords.

Although Obama’s speeches tend toward the elegiac, he’s also terrifically skillful at finding phrases that will draw people in and make us, as listeners, feel that we are all a part of something.


It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

This is the kind of rhetoric he will need if he is to get us working together to make the changes this country needs so badly.

(Here are some other writers’ takes on the speech via Susan Salter Reynolds.)


By the way, all the poets with whom I spoke were thrilled by Obama’s choice of Elizabeth Alexander to write a poem for the inauguration. Sadly, however—but perhaps understandibly, given the windchill—on the national mall, the crowd began dispersing the minute Obama’s speech was over. They failed to wait for Ms. Alexander’s lovely poem. I could only assume that nobody standing near to me was a writer. Writers would never have left before the poet, windchill be damned.

This morning, Wednesday, the real work begins—and the challenges, as we all know, are well beyond daunting. But for one very cold Tuesday in January, it was pretty much all joy.


Posted in Elections '08, Inauguration '09, Obama, Presidential race | 43 Comments »

Inauguration ’09 – Monday

January 19th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


It is Monday in Washington, DC, and I have coat envy.

I flew in last night after ten intense days in my literary bubble at Bennington College in Vermont, and thought I’d have trouble shifting gears. But as I waited at the Baltimore airport for the Big Blue Van to take me to where I will be staying at my friend’s apartment in the new embassy district, I fell into the crowd that was flowing in for the inauguration and my internal landscape changed in an instant. It was impossible not to be swept all at once into the sensation of being part of history.

Plus there were the coats. I was wearing (and still am) a slightly dirty, very un-chic black down jacket, but the women arriving from all over the country came with the most amazing array of coats. Floor-length minks, and the most glamorous faux furr-ish numbers for the non-pelt-wearing among us. You name it, women at the Baltimore airport were sporting it proudly and elegantly.

Nearby to all the fabulous coat-wearing women, there was a guy named Shawn from some local NPC affiliate who was doing video interviews with some of those, like me, who were queing up for a van. He first asked if they were there for the inauguration, (which everyone within earshot seemed to be), then he asked all the expected questions: “What does this mean to you? Why was it important for you to come?”


When I asked for his card, he interviewed me too.

In response to the boilerplate queries, I gave embarrassingly boilerplate answers. I wanted to be able to tell my grandchildren that I was here, I said. (Great, I thought as I heard myself. I’ve just come from ten days with writers and this is all I can manage?)

Then maybe because I was running on days of little sleep, or maybe because I was already caught up in the fever of the moment, but I muttered something rather soapy and inarticulate. “I want to be here the day the world changes,” I said.

And I began to cry, which seemed embarrassingly silly. I fanned my eyes. “Sorry,” I said to Shawn as his video rolled. “Sorry, sorry! I don’t know why I’m getting so emotional….!”

Then I looked up and I saw he was crying too.

After we finished talking and crying, I did my own interviews. I talked to Samantha, a Goth-made-up student at San Francisco State who took a semester off to volunteer for Obama.


And Eleanor who runs a day care center in San Antonio and was there with three of her friends. “This is the most exciting thing I’ll ever do in my life,” she said, and recited an expanded version of what got me to get weepy.


“This is going to change the whole world.” Eleanor said. “Not just the United States. The world.”
Are the expectations ridiculously and unrealistically high? Oh, sure. Hell, yeah. Of course.
But as I talked to more and more people, in the airport and in the van— the attractive and very blond family from Nashville, Kim Nickerson, the teacher and sometimes actress from LA, and so on and so on—it seemed that, despite the over-the-top phrasing that we all seemed to grasp for in scrambling to explain our respective states of mind and the feelings that were at once personal and communal, that it wasn’t about any kind of deification of this one very human guy being sworn into office, or even crazy expectations. It really is about hope.

There’s no better word. Hope. Despite all the cynicism, despite the impossibilities that await our new president, despite our knowledge of the things that can (and probably will) go wrong. Hope. That’s all.

And it’s been a long time in coming.


More blogging from my iPhone later today…

Posted in American voices, Elections '08, Inauguration '09, Obama, Presidential race | 10 Comments »

Senate Seats & Editorial Control: Secondhand Selling Goes Rogue in Chicago

December 9th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


According to USA Today, secondhand stores and sales on eBay
are up during these recessionary times, but this is ridiculous

It seems that, wanting in on the craze to make side income by selling recycled goods, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was offering a nice, somewhat used Senate seat for sale. But the seat didn’t come cheap, say the Feds, who have just clapped cuffs on the good governor.

Furthermore, the Chicago Sun-Times says that Blagojevich shook down the Tribune Company to get members of the Trib’s editorial critical of him fired, and that Sam Zell had plans to comply under the guise of Chapter 11 reorganization.

Intercepted calls allegedly show that Blagojevich directed Harris to inform the Tribune and an associate, identified as Tribune Financial Advisor, that state financial assistance would be withheld unless members of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board were fired, primarily because Blagojevich viewed them as driving discussion of his possible impeachment.

And here are some clips from the WSJ story on Gov. Blagojevich’s….uh….entrepreneurial efforts.

Throwing a harsh spotlight on a city that has been celebrating the election of Barack Obama to the White House, federal agents Tuesday arrested Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and a senior aide on broad corruption charges, including allegations they tried to sell Mr. Obama’s Senate seat.

According to a 76-page two-count indictment unsealed by prosecutors in Chicago on Tuesday, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents allegedly heard the governor on wiretaps attempting to trade or sell the Senate seat being vacated by Mr. Obama when he becomes president next month.

In exchange for the seat, federal agents say Mr. Blagojevich is heard seeking a number of arrangements, including a salary for himself at an organization affiliated with labor unions, a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself, cash or campaign funds, and placing his wife Patti on paid corporate boards.

During a Dec. 4 wiretapped conversation, Mr. Blagojevich allegedly told an adviser he would “get some [money] upfront, maybe” from one candidate for the Senate seat.

Mr. Blagojevich considered appointing himself. The affidavit said that as late as Nov. 3, he told his deputy governor that if “they’re not going to offer me anything of value I might as well take it.”

Did I mention that Blagojevich was elected as a…(insert sound of hysterical laughter)…..reformer?

The Chicago Trib (featuring it’s newest and most hideously headache-producing, web layout) says that folks on both sides of the aisle are calling for Blagojevich’s resignation.

(Duh! Y’think????)

Posted in Elections '08, National politics | 8 Comments »

Dear Barack: Welcome to the Collective Presidency

November 10th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


After the networks called the presidential election at 8:01 PST on Tuesday night, before Barack Obama hit the stage at Grant Park in Chicago, the campaign sent out an email note to all supporters, ostensibly from Obama. It began:

“I’m about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first…..”

The note included the usual campaign thank yous. I couldn’t have done it without you, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Then it said:

“We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track, and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.”

It is signed” “Barack.”

That “being in touch” part of the note had just the right we’re-all-in-this-together tone. Obama would be a fool to drop the metaphorical threads that have connected him and his campaign to the hundreds of thousands of volunteers and doners who made his run for the presidency a success. Clearly he means to mobilize those legions in some manner or other at some point in the future.

But, like it or not, relationships are a two-way street. More than nearly any other presidential campaign within living memory, Obama both engendered and courted a sense of personal involvement with him and his message.

So now as he forms his cabinet and sets his agenda,
attention to his choices are unusually obsessive and—rightly or wrongly—people from all quarters feel like they ought to have a say.

As a consequence, lists of issues Obama ought to addess, are surfacing from a great many sources.

Today, for example, Nation edtior Katrina vanden Heuvel, has a good list of priorities for Obama’s first 100 days.

And on Sunday NPR began a series they call MEMO TO THE PRESIDENT, which lists the challenges that the NPR editors and reporters most think the new president elect ought to address.

Theirs is a pretty good beginning list. I have a few things that I think they missed, which I’ll be posting about in the next few days. And you likely have some of your own.

Here’s the NPR list to get you thinking:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Elections '08, Obama, Presidential race | 4 Comments »

DAY THREE: Still Happy (And Not Crying Anywhere Near As Much)

November 7th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


But tired, very, very tired.
(Who knew that joy and relief could be this exhausting?)



1. When Nancy Pelosi (and also Barbara Boxer at the Obama election night party in Century City) said what a great night Tuesday was for the Democrats……it was extremely grating. It was fingernails on a blackboard in the midst of music.

This isn’t just about Democrats, girlfriends. If that’s your first thought, you’ve completely missed the point.

Patt Morrison explained it perfectly in her Thursday LA Times column. In fact Patt wouldn’t mind being beyond political parties altogether. Neither would I. (But sadly we’re a little bit of a distance from that kind of blow-it-up-and-start over moment, just yet.)


2. Note to some of my liberal friends (and a whole host of conservative bloggers): Stop freaking out about Rahm Emanuel. Yes, he’s a very partisan-ish party oriented guy, and a bit creepily hawky on foreign policy. But Obama needs a bad cop, an enforcer, a sword arm. A guardian at the gate. In this way Rahm is perfect. That and he’s OCD-level organized.

One of the worst mistakes Carter ever made was in thinking he needed no Washington insiders when he swept into town. His presidency never quite recovered from that misjudgment.

It will all just come down to who is running whom. After watching this presidential campaign, do you honestly have any doubt who will call the shots in that pairing?


3. Note to the Bush Aministration: Please reread the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Now.

This is from this morning’s New York Times editorial. It speaks for itself:

In a stroke of self-satire, Pentagon officials tried to block Stars and Stripes — the military’s respected independent newspaper — from covering the troops’ plain and honest reactions to the election night news about their new commander in chief. The Department of Defense once again made news by smothering news.

The boneheaded muzzling of the newspaper, which is protected by First Amendment guarantees against editorial interference, barred reporters assigned to do simple color stories from the public areas of military bases in order to “avoid engaging in activities that could associate the Department with any partisan election.”

Partisan? By that rationale, the civilian news media’s coverage of the spontaneous celebrations across the land on Tuesday night was an act of journalistic bias. It’s ludicrous that Pentagon brass feared men and women in uniform might be caught smiling, frowning or variously exclaiming “Whoopee!” or “Rats!” at voting results from the democracy they defend with their lives

Paging Bob Gates. Oh, hi, Bob. Hey, look, aren’t you the guy whom President-elect Obama may keep onboard for a while? I thought so. Okay, Bob, listen: you are embarrassed about this little free speech thingy that your people bobbled so badly, right? It would be helpful to know.

4. It’s kinda cool that Mayor Antonio V. will be in Chicago today in some semi-advisory transition-ish group talking to Obama about how to move forward on the economy. AV’s in good company and his presence means that LA’s interests are represented, which is a very good thing.


5. Maureen Dowd gets it too. MoDo can be relentlessly trivial at times, but Wednesday’s column (which I somehow didn’t manage to read until now), again echos the incredible and very deep desire to move beyond the red/blue divisions that I believe is the sentiment in the country that needs to be heeded. Here are the last few paragraphs:

….In the midst of such a phenomenal, fizzy victory overcoming so many doubts and crazy attacks and even his own middle name, Obama stood alone.

He rejected the Democratic kumbaya moment of having your broad coalition on stage with you, as he talked about how everyone would have to pull together and “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

He professed “humility,” but we’d heard that before from W., and look what happened there.

Promising to also be president for those who opposed him, Obama quoted Lincoln, his political idol and the man who ended slavery: “We are not enemies, but friends — though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”

There have been many awful mistakes made in this country. But now we have another chance.

As we start fresh with a constitutional law professor and senator from the Land of Lincoln, the Lincoln Memorial might be getting its gleam back.

I may have to celebrate by going over there and climbing up into Abe’s lap.

It’s a $50 fine. But it’d be worth it.

Hey, Maureen, I’ll meet you there in January, say around the 20th. We can do it together. Fifty-buck fine and all.

Posted in Elections '08, Obama, Presidential race | 21 Comments »

The Suddenly Empty Lives of Obama Supporters

November 6th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

As the transition teams get up and running,
and the speculative cabinet member lists fly round the web, a humor break (in case you haven’t seen it) courtesy of The Onion.

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race | 5 Comments »

“For that is the true genius of America…that America can change.”

November 5th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

History is made.





Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House – a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”

This is our moment. This is our time – to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can.

By the way, at the Hyatt Century Plaza Hotel in Century City where the main LA Obama party was held, when the networks called the election for Obama, and then later when the new president elect spoke, the emotions careening around the ballroom were extraordinary. Some people whooped a lot, of course. Other people stood stock still as if containing a roil of feeling.

A lot of people cried. A lot of people. At some point, for example, a very nice man whom I’d never met (who I later learned was an attorney because we exchanged cards) collapsed in my arms and sobbed for a minute or two while I sort of patted him. He was a head or two taller than me, and as I said, we didn’t know each other at all, but it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. I felt like he was crying for both of us.

It was that kind of night.

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race | 24 Comments »

Still Hoping For Prop. 8 to be Miraculously Gone by Morning

November 5th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

So tell me again why letting other people get married threatens your marriage?

Posted in Elections '08, Propositions | 5 Comments »

ZERO HOUR: Live Blogging Election Night

November 4th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

(I’ll be doing it from my blackberry so let’s see how it goes.)

Am just approaching the Hyatt Regency in Century City, the Obama party.Friends inside say there was much screaming.a huge line waiting to get in the ballroom.
10 p.m.It’s much, much later and the miracle has happened.
I’ll post stuff anon. In the meantime, joy to us all.

Posted in Elections '08, Presidential race | 4 Comments »


November 4th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

Some of my elections monitoring attorney friends are running across some serious voting problems, even in California.

If you are having any problem voting, DO NOT cast a provisional ballot except as a last resort.

For information in solving voter problems,—yours or anybody else’s—call 1-866-OUR VOTE. That’s Election Protection. Pass it on.

(And in Los Angeles, the number for the registrar’s office is: 800-815-2666)

Posted in Elections '08 | 4 Comments »

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