Obama delivers manna for the masses - and small gatherings

Talking Politics
By IAN DONNIS  |  January 22, 2009

NEW DAY: Young Americans exult at Brown University.

Although the inauguration day spread at the Scituate home of longtime liberal political activist Kate Coyne-McCoy on Tuesday included an array of frittatas, grilled sausages, roast potatoes, and Champagne, the main sustenance for a like-minded group of about dozen guests was the political manna represented by the swearing-in of Barack Obama.

Last summer, Coyne-McCoy, the Northeast regional director for EMILY's List, which focuses on aiding female candidates, hosted a Democratic presidential straw poll in which Hillary Clinton emerged triumphant. The result was unsurprising, since Clinton was widely assumed to have a lock on the Democratic nomination.

Coyne-McCoy's personal preference at the time was John Edwards, and when he dropped out, she backed Obama — because, she says, he most embodied the prospect of real change.

On the verge of joyful tears after Obama's swearing-in, Coyne-McCoy called it her happiest moment since the birth of her children. Her guests were similarly ebullient, reacting with applause and whoops to the new president's speech and the spirited benediction by Joseph Lowery, who had founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr.

(The invocation by evangelist Rick Warren, on the other hand, had been greeted warily, with some of those in attendance wisecracking, "except [for] the gays," when the pastor talked of extending love and good feeling through the land.)

Obama echoed Ronald Reagan with his forecast of better days, and his homage to bygone veterans, whispering through the years, was reminiscent of the gifted speechwriter Peggy Noonan. Overall, though, he firmly owned that speech, signaling an appreciation of American history, as well as the dawn of a new era.

Last summer, Coyne-McCoy says, "I was convinced there was no way we [Democrats] couldn't win." Such a belief was widespread at the time due to dissatisfaction with the presidency of George W. Bush. But like any number of people, even Coyne-McCoy believed at the time that America was not ready to elect an African-American president.

The 2000 Congressional candidate found it hard to put into words her joy about the ultimate tangible reality of her being proved wrong. "I can not describe how I've felt for days," she said, as she pulled a pan of roasted potatoes from her oven. Not only does Obama represent a polar opposite to his predecessor, she said, "he's an African-American with an African-American family," signifying the possibility of change in America. "It really, to me, is a big deal."

Coyne-McCoy, who had attended one of Bill Clinton's inaugurals, had tickets for this week's event, but she gave them away. Instead of being amidst the tens of thousands of other Americans personally welcoming a new president on a cold January day, she watched with wonder as he spoke on a television in her living room.

Related: Has Obama peaked? No, he hasn't, Party like it's 1999, Inauguration Day Round-up, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Barack Obama, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Politics,  More more >
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