Happy New Year to all of you. Yes, the blog has been silent for more than a month, but that ends today. I've been reading your posts over the last 6 weeks, though not commenting, and that too will change.
4 years ago I spent Inauguration Day working in an office building just Lafayette Park away from the White House. I watched every second of the swearing-in ceremony, including the star-studded entertainment and the inaugural address. I could see the bleachers lining Pennsylvania Avenue from my office window and watched as President and Mrs. Bush walked the last few yards back home. That evening, I donned a ball gown and attended an official inaugural ball. It was a glorious day -- not just because I am a political junkie, but because I am a devotee of democracy and the Republic that is the United States of America.
Today, though thousands of miles from our nation's capital, and with a less than optimal view of the action, I am nevertheless carried away by the spectacle and history of this day. I can imagine the crush of the crowds, the palpable excitement, the anticipation of history being made and I long to be a part of it all. I look forward to Barack Obama's first address as our 44th President. I have hope in him and his ability to bring us together as a nation. I hope that he will not be defeated by the heavy expectations the nation and the world have for him. I am confident in his ability to succeed and anxious to watch his presidency unfold.
I cannot help but contrast today in America with last week in Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez, also a democratically elected leader who enjoys a 60% approval rating, who too brings throngs of people into the streets (though often in protest), who has brought sweeping change to his country, addressed his people in the Venezuelan equivalent of the State of the Union last week. All local programming was suspended to carry Chavez's address, much like in the US, but in this case it was not by choice -- the last television station that expressed opposition to Chavez was stripped of its ability to broadcast and forced to shut down. There was no pomp and circumstance, just a speech before the National Assembly that started at 2:00 pm (three hours after the scheduled start time) and lasted for...7 and a half hours!
Now, don't get me wrong, I like a good speech. I watch the State of the Union every year -- regardless of the speaker's political ideology. I've even read many from the past that I wasn't around for in person. I've read inaugural addresses of many past presidents as well, even the longest, given by William Henry Harrison in 1841. Harrison spoke for over 2 hours in the freezing March rain without an overcoat. He died just 31 days later from pneumonia. Historians say there was no connection between his speech and his death, but just to be safe no president since has ever come close to matching Harrison's record-breaking oration. I thought of Harrison last week and the dire consequences that followed on the heels of a much too long speech. For the record, I don't wish Chavez to meet an untimely demise just because he is long-winded, but it seems only fair that after nearly 8 hours of speaking without a single bathroom break, at the very least a painful urinary tract infection is in order.
God bless America on this day of days when we are able witness the peaceful transfer of power to a man who in one way or another we all participated in selecting. I for one am hoping that man keeps his speech stirring, yet brief.