US Capitalby Robert Gillis Published in the Foxboro Reporter and the Boston City paper, January 2009

The cost of President Barack Obama’s inauguration — estimated at some $170 million dollars — has been (for some) a heated topic. Many have argued — reasonably — how can the government spend such a huge amount of money on such a lavish ceremony during these terrible economic times? One letter-writer to the Boston Herald said a simple swearing in at the White House would have been just fine and set an example that cost-cutting begins at the top.

That’s a fair and reasonable point. No one needs an update on where the economy is in America in 2009.

But I would argue that despite the economy, the cost of the inauguration was worth every penny. America needed that ceremony, that pageantry, that formal acknowledgement, that pomp and circumstance.

This event was one that demanded proper recognition. We needed the party.


  • The transfer of power is peaceful. The incoming leader has not seized power through bloodshed but by the will of the people. For that, we are the envy of the world — for over two centuries, every four or eight years the United States transitions her leadership and executive power and the process is PEACEFUL. That fact alone is worth dancing in the streets.
  • A black man has been elected President of the United States. The significance of that fact will be written about for generations. As President Obama said in his inauguration speech, his own father, 60 years ago, might not have been served in Washington because of his skin color. In my own lifetime, I remember the race riots of the late 1960s, the racial strife and forced segregation that tore Boston and other cities apart in the 1970s, and we’ve all witnessed the social and economic wars of race and class in this country. And now a black man is president — that is AWESOME. This country has come so far, finally. Racism and friction between races won’t be erased with this election, but it is a hell of a great start in the right direction toward healing, a milestone of epic proportions, and perhaps the real beginnings of racial peace in our land. This incredible moment in our history needed to be acknowledged properly.
  • For the first time in many years, the people of this country, young and old, are EXCITED about its leadership and the new government. This last election, all two grueling years of it, was marvelous for the simple reason that so many millions and millions of people were involved. They were passionate. They were informed. They wanted to be part of the process. For so many years we have been jaded and ambivalent and angry about our government and leaders. This time, people got involved. They lobbied. They polled. They wrote. They called. They worked, and worked, and worked, and they voted. I have NEVER seen such excitement, and then joy, across this country on an election night. It was palpable. It was like New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
  • On inauguration day, an estimated 1.8 million people crowded Washington DC. The level of excitement defies superlatives. People are energized. They’re hopeful — they believe change is coming. All that good energy isn’t just about a black man being elected president — it’s about the tangible feeling that REAL CHANGE is coming and that the America we knew will be back. An America where we don’t torture people. An America where we have a fair immigration policy. An America where the Constitution is restored to its proper place as the Law of the Land. Things are changing — the America we loved will be back.

Barack Obama is just one man and like all presidents, he will have his successes and failures. His administration — like all administrations — will have its problems, controversies, detractors, and bumps along the way.

No man can summon the future, and no one person can fix this country’s problems. No one should believe that. But a great leader, even a good leader, can not only lead but instill hope, and inspire others to greatness as well. I have a real hope that Obama is that man.

I pray that the tremendous flow of happiness and positive energy felt on January 20 will remain and help our nation heal, and prosper.

We celebrated far more on January 20 than the first black president or a peaceful transition of power. We celebrated waking up from a long nightmare. We’re still fighting two wars, we’re still in grave danger from terrorist attack. There’s a lot wrong with America right now.

But watching the inauguration, I was so impressed by our new president. Despite the inauguration’s financial cost, the United States needed a gigantic celebration — a true recognition — of the change that has come, and the new era that has dawned.

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