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Americans' Outsized Expectations for Obama Face Long Odds

Author: Edward Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow
January 20, 2009
Vancouver Sun


The economic stimulus package has arrived early in Washington. In preparation for today's inauguration of Barack Obama, more than 5,000 portable toilets have been trucked into downtown D.C.

Crews have built bleachers and set out thousands of chairs for the events, with the best ones reserved for the $50,000-a-seat donors. Washington's police force will temporarily double to 8,000 and another 12,000 military troops will help with security. Hotel rooms have tripled their normal rates, and people are renting out their houses for thousands of dollars for a few days.

Americans have always had outsized expectations for their presidents, but they have never seen anything like this. Organizers predict that today's swearing-in and the parade that follows from the Capitol Building to the White House will draw more than two million visitors to Washington, with some estimates running as high as five million. Even the low number would be nearly twice the record crowd set for Lyndon Johnson's inauguration in 1965.

The historic inauguration of the country's first African-American president explains part of the excitement. But most of it reflects a desperate hope that, after many years of false promises, Obama really will bring a change to Washington. For more than two decades, the reigning ideology in the American capital has been that government is the problem, not the solution.

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