Lisa Ling's Inauguration Blog
Interviewing one of our country's foremost historians the day after the inauguration of America's first African-American president was a career highpoint for me. As a student of history, I have always had great appreciation for Doris Kearns Goodwin's insights. For my generation, this was one of the most defining moments of our lives. I was so eager to know where she felt it was comparable to any inaugurations. She said that President Obama's was truly unprecedented. I also asked if she had known of any other president who wrote his own inaugural address to which she responded, "Lincoln."
Interestingly enough, it is Lincoln to whom President Obama seems to have likened his ambitions most. I told Doris about the day I visited the Lincoln Memorial this week. There was a line that stretched a quarter of a mile around the monument. As a history aficionado, I was elated to see that so many people were wanting to acquaint themselves better with Abraham Lincoln's presidency and most importantly with history. President Obama is doing for history what Oprah did for books: renewing interest. Very cool.
I said that Obama's brilliance and gift of oration cannot be denied, but I asked her if the junior senator from Illinois would have become president if the previous administration had not made so many blunders. She told me that Obama tapped into that urgent, desperate desire for change, and became a leader for whom the world has been yearning. After all these years of living in fear and terror alerts, it certainly has been nice to feel a sense of hope and optimism. These are sentiments that the world seems to have confirmed this week.
To say that the road forward will be tough would be to grossly understate the enormity of what lies ahead. One of the president's biggest challenges will inevitably be the war in Afghanistan. This is a country that has been a big part of my life. I visited Afghanistan for the first time in 1994, when I was 21 years old. It was the story that propelled me to want to continue pursuing journalism as a career. I got into a taxi here in Washington, D.C., the other day, and the driver happened to be from Afghanistan and had returned from Kabul only a couple days prior to our meeting. I asked him what he thought of Obama's plan to send thousands more troops to his country. He said, "If they send a million more troops to Afghanistan, they will be defeated."
A staunch opponent of the Taliban, he reiterated the fact that they are relentless and highly skilled fighters. Afghanistan is a country that has been actively engaged in war for nearly 30 years. There has been no lull in fighting for three decades! Having been there a couple of times, I have always maintained that war alone is not a viable solution for Afghanistan—it would be an unwinnable pursuit. A multi-pronged approach that incorporates education, building infrastructure and overall development is imperative.
The taxi driver also vehemently warned against employing solely a military plan without the aforementioned. He said that the past five years have been a failure because we underestimated the Taliban's resourcefulness, and its relationship with Pakistan. I asked if he thought President Obama would do the right thing in his country. He said, "I like that he [Obama] wants to help the people. Nobody ever thinks of helping the people."
If I may offer an opinion having spent time with many Afghans who do not support the Taliban, they need to be won over—and not with more war. That being said, if President Obama can win over millions of people around the world, hopefully he can win over Afghans, as well.
As I was about to get out of the taxi, I noticed something affixed to the lapel of my driver's jacket—an Obama button.
I truly didn't want this day to end. Our country is in the midst of colossal challenges, but on this day, we celebrated and rejoiced in our collective promise to do better. We looked beyond our differences, and we saw the best in each other and in humanity.
It was a glorious moment at the Home States Ball when the President and First Lady walked in. He addressed his fellow Hawaiians and Chicagoans with an "Aloha" and "What's up." It was a funny and endearing moment. He is such a seemingly accessible, but distinguished and dignified, Commander in Chief.
Expectations of President Obama are enormous—he is not a God. But people of the world have been yearning for leadership: someone who inspires hope and appeals to our innate goodness. We got a good one today.
I hope in my core that this momentum continues on beyond this day. Let us carry the feeling that we had today into tomorrow and into the next and the next.
Pictured: Lisa and her husband with Iraq war veteran and director of the Illinois Dept. of Veterans' Affairs Tammy Duckworth and her husband, Maj. Bryan Bowlsbey, a fellow National Guardsman who learned last month that he's being called up for deployment.
Being alive today is a gift greater than anything I have ever received. I am speechless. President Obama, thank you for being more compassionate, gracious and inclusive than I could ever be.
Thank you for inspiring us to be better people and to be better to people. May your desire to engage those of all backgrounds infect us all. I am so deeply proud of us today.
7:37 a.m. Tuesday, January 20, 2009
I had the intention of stopping by a couple of events last night—D.C. is a buzz with more parties perhaps than any other city on earth. But because of security for the presidential parade today, streets were closed off by about 11 p.m. So I made it only to the Green Ball, hosted by former Vice President Al Gore.
My husband Paul and I wanted to be there because we are trying to build the first carbon-neutral home in our neighborhood. The movement towards energy independence is a good and important one, and the party was filled with people who support this way of thinking. It was an impressive line-up of performers: Maroon 5, John Legend, Will.i.am and Shakira, among others.
But getting into these parties is a ridiculous endeavor. It's definitely not what this week should be about. In fact, if I'm going to be frank, my big complaint with this week has been that the events really seem to be reserved for those with connections or resources. I heard that there's a party where tickets are going for $10,000. Now these are not the official balls—those go for around $150 unless tickets are scalped. Especially in these challenging times, gluttonous behavior is increasingly intolerable (to me). But today is about what is going to happen on the steps of the Capitol: history.
Backstage at The Oprah Show from the Kennedy Center. Will.I.am, Seal, Mary J. Blige, Faith Hill, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore are roaming around. Will recited a beautiful poem that he wrote while sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Monument.
I have to say that I'm really proud of how much Will has evolved. I've known him since I was 19. Here's a pic of us with Dante Santiago who works with Will, someone I've also known forever.
Will is one of those artists who uses his platform for such good. Perhaps more than any other musician, he has been on the forefront of the movement to engage people in the political process. His "Yes We Can" video was one of the more far-reaching viral videos ever.
Oh...VP-elect Biden just came in. It was a surprise. So cool!
The song that Will and David Foster wrote for the show is amazing. Will be downloading it immediately!
After the show, we stopped by the Lincoln Memorial. I cannot describe how awesome it was to be there on MLK day—the day before Barack Obama becomes President. The historical significance of this day will not be forgotten. A beautiful, young African American woman standing in line at the memorial remarked that "Lincoln is probably smiling right now."
I was invited to the Aloha Ball tonight at the Hay Adams Hotel. I love Hawaii, and I love Hawaiians. Every time I visit any of the islands, I am always treated so warmly—tonight was no different. I went with my girlfriend Kelly Hu who is a native Hawaiian and whom you may recognize from The Scorpion King or X-Men.
Barack's sister Maya and her husband Konrad engaged in festivities. Maya is as brilliant as her brother—it must run in the family.
I [took] photos with Kelly, Maya, Konrad and three of perhaps the tallest mayors in the U.S.—the shortest of the three is over 6 feet tall.
It was lovely to witness the pride exhibited by residents of the state of Hawaii. Their native son will soon be the next President of the United States of America.
2:32 p.m. Sunday, January 18, 2009
There is such electricity in the air here in DC. I had such a moving day talking to people who've come from so many parts of the country and world to be here this week. I met a mother and daughter from England who got on a plane with no tickets to anything but felt compelled to be here to see the first black President be sworn in. I asked if they thought they'd ever see a black person become Prime Minister of England, and they unequivocally replied, "no."
I met a family of 18 beautiful girls ages 12 to 77, from Fayetteville, Georgia—a state that Barack Obama lost—who came together to be part of this week. They are the female descendants of 5 deceased sisters whom they said would have been so proud to see this day. They told me that their family has always been very progressive; very different from the conservative community from which they hail,. They said that they were criticized by a lot of people for wanting to come to Washington. I was moved by the young girls who stood apart from so many in their area to proclaim their support for their candidate. They said it was important for them to come to DC to represent those in the South who are not closed minded (their words, not mine).
A young African American man wearing Barack Obama attire from head to toe told me that he grew up without a father and having an accomplished leader who has withstood so many challenges and prevailed has made him more positive and hopeful about the future. He so proudly said that this was the first time in his life that he ever cast a vote.
It was awesome to be amongst so many people of different races, generations and lands who want to be here. This is what patriotism is about. I've never felt anything quite like it.
I gave a speech to around 10,000 high school students from all over the U.S.at the Presidential Inaugural Conference—it was quite awesome. I brought my flip cam up to the podium and asked that they say HI to me on camera.
The conference brings together an impressive group of keynote speakers. This year students will hear from Al Gore, Colin Powell, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and historian Doris Kerns Goodwin. I was utterly humbled to be amongst such distinguished group of speakers. Speaking to students who range in age from 14 to 17 is sometimes tough. Attention spams are at times limited. Though many endured harrowing travel schedules to get the University of Maryland campus, the students were very attentive and asked terrific questions of me. It's inspiring to be amongst young people who are truly energized about the political process and what they will be experiencing this week. Even though none of them can vote, the desire to be engaged was apparent.
All of these students will be on the mall when Barack Obama is inaugurated. They'll be 10,000 of millions perhaps, there to witness history.
I lived in DC for a short period and my husband lived here and practiced medicine for more than a decade. Never, have we seen this city so electrified. People have come from every corner of the earth to experience this week. Though we are experiencing challenges of epic proportions economically, diplomatically and environmentally; it's nice to feel a sense of optimism and enthusiasm. As a former DC resident, though the traffic is quite impenetrable, it's nice to see local businesses benefitting from the infusion of people and cash.
7:52 a.m. Friday, January 16, 2009
It's Friday and I've just boarded my flight to DC. It's been a long time since I packed a bag as big as the one I brought because it's not easy to figure out what to bring when you're going to black tie balls in freezing cold temperatures. I've got puffy coats, UGGs, gowns and 5 inch strappy sandals in one big ole duffle. I've heard reports that the night of the inauguration there will be thousands of people—dressed to the nines having to walk miles to their respective venues—please don't snow! This is when I get envious of the male species.
Despite the fact that it's said to be the coldest inauguration in years, I am so excited for a week that I know I'll re-count to my kids in perpetuity. I have heard countless stories of people just jumping into their cars with their kids and heading out to D.C. to experience history.
Perhaps more than any other year—I know I've only been alive through 7 U.S. presidents—this inauguration belongs to everyone. Rich, poor, black, white; this particular presidency symbolizes something more all encompassing than ever before. A man of mixed race, raised by a single mother and grandparents, an immigrant father who abandoned him, bounced around from country to country, city to city, Ivy league educated, public servant. Even though President Obama is inheriting two wars and a global financial meltdown, for a few days, the world will revel in the historical significance of this momentous occasion. It's going to be a good week...even if it's cold.