Six Perspecitives on the Obama Inauguration


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Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy LaRoue are staff writers for The News Virginian in Waynesboro, Va.
Published: January 18, 2009

WAYNESBORO, Va.—Few presidential elections in recent decades have carried the weight of the one last fall.

A housing market collapse, tumbling industry, massive layoffs, rising unemployment and two wars abroad swirled among issues in the minds of voters. And through it all, a youthful Democratic senator from Illinois bid to become the first black elected president of the United States.

Barack Obama’s historic victory has triggered interest and excitement unrivaled in recent memory. Some 2 million people are expected to flood Washington on Tuesday to witness his inauguration and millions more will watch from home.

The moment has widespread meaning to all Americans. Here’s a look at six perspectives from people in the Shenandoah Valley:

Matthew Whitfield

The president of the R.E. Lee High School Young Democrats, Whitfield, 18, is ready for Obama’s inauguration, but said there is still much for young people to do.

“It is really exciting. A lot of the Young Democrats at Lee High School can’t wait for him to become president. We think it’s more important than ever for him to become president. Things are getting worse, and if there’s ever a time for change, it’s right now.”

He said Obama has already proven his leadership in helping get another $350 billion bailout for the financial industry.
“I think without Obama there, it wouldn’t have had a chance to pass.”

He appreciates that Obama is talking to legislators on both sides of the aisle, and in both houses of Congress.

“He’s trying to get bipartisan support for everything he does right now because he knows he can’t do all of this alone. He needs the whole country behind him in order to succeed.”

Whitfield said the school’s Young Democrats are motivated, and have continued their community service even after the election, 10 of them going to a local park and picking up trash. He said the group’s goal is to do at least one community service project per month. He said people can’t just wait for Obama to do everything.

“While we’re still in high school, this is, of course, our future.”

Charles Curry

The president of the Augusta County Farm Bureau Federation and a beef cattle farmer in Mount Solon, Curry, 62, describes himself as a moderate, though others, he said, might consider him more of a conservative. However, Obama has pleasantly surprised him so far.
“I haven’t been quite as disappointed as I thought I’d be with the things he’s done so far. He’s been more to the middle of the road than I expected. ... I think he’s disappointed some of the left wing more than he has me.”

Curry admitted he wasn’t “real cheerful” about Obama’s choice for secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack of Iowa.

And Curry was less cheerful after listening to Harlan Hughes, a professor emeritus at North Dakota State University and a journalist with BEEF magazine. At the 2009 Winter Forage Conference in Mount Crawford, Hughes offered a pessimistic outlook about beef cattle, Curry said.

The costs for inputs are higher, while the price the consumer is willing to pay is not, Curry said, meaning “we can’t break even.”

“The only thing that’ll save us is if the price of food goes up, but that won’t make people very happy either.

Of Obama, Curry said he expects to know more by the end of his first year in office.

“I think the campaign time is more about perception and posturing than reality. I think we’re seeing reality now. Give it a year and I think we’ll know more.”

He hopes things will be better by then, for beef cattle, and for the country.
“I’m hoping that the new president will make a difference and get a new grip on hope and have the economy turn around for everybody. I’m afraid I’m not very optimistic because the short-term outlook isn’t very good, but I hope I’m wrong.”

Cytha Stottlemyer

A senior political science major at Mary Baldwin College and vice president of the College Democrats there, Stottlemyer spends hours of class time trying to get to the bottom of political rhetoric and policy making. She expects a mostly symbolic inaugural speech from Obama, and she will be patient when it comes to the speed of reform.
“I just think we need to get away from the ‘Hundred Days’ language,” she said, referring to common references to the timetable of actions planned by presidents in their first 100 days in office.

It won’t be easy for one man to spur the economy, Stottlemyer said, but there is a great opportunity to improve conditions. For example: “It’s a perfect time to bring together economic stimulus and environmental reform,” she said.

Stottlemyer said Obama’s campaign showed how a ground-up movement can succeed, and she thinks Obama can be a unifier, something President George W. Bush promised he would be.
“But we’re not yet [a] post-racial, post-partisan [nation],” she said.

Stottlemyer will speak as part of a panel discussion Tuesday at Mary Baldwin College’s Francis Auditorium, where a public viewing is scheduled for the swearing-in ceremony.

Igor Padilla

A Guatemalan immigrant and contractor, Padilla, 42, of Waynesboro, learned the hard way what happens when money is misspent.

Life in California, where Padilla lived before moving here, was too expensive, so he moved back to Guatemala and then to Virginia, where he obtained American citizenship. The lesson makes him think about Obama’s economic reforms.

He worries about the cost of war. And the space program.

“[Politicians] can say a lot of things,” said Padilla, who is waiting for results. “In every place, every government can say a lot of things.”

Padilla said Guatemalan government is rife with corruption.

“[America] is better because there is more people watching you closer ... different organizations, watching, watching, watching,” he said.

As for his own look-out, Padilla most often watches immigration developments. He said the United States needs to offer more temporary work visas, a policy that would help the contracting company for which he works.

And as to Obama?

“I didn’t think I would see an African-American as president,” Padilla said. “This is wonderful.”

Rebecca Henderson

A self-described conservative, Henderson said political talk doesn’t often surface at the Waynesboro Senior Center, where local folks gather to play bridge, billiards and Wii bowling.

But she has heard enough to worry about Obama’s experience.

“Maybe he can learn as he goes,” Henderson said. “We might be surprised.”

Henderson nevertheless thinks Obama could accomplish a great deal in office, if surrounded by the right advisers.

“He might be able to do more than a Republican could do because he has more Democrats [in Congress],” she said.

Stephanie Ragland

A Mary Baldwin College senior and Presidential Classroom participant, Ragland doesn’t pick sides.

She met a number of prominent government leaders through Presidential Classroom during high school. But that program, which introduces high-achieving students to government, is nonpartisan.

So although Ragland will be at the inauguration, she stops short of supporting Obama.

“Some people are holding him to a high expectation,” Ragland said. “I want him to do what he has to do to begin to turn things around.”

She wonders if Obama will keep up his campaign enthusiasm and wants him to truly be transparent, especially if he makes mistakes.

“I’m curious about his Cabinet,” Ragland said, “how the parties are going to really work together. I’m very curious.”

Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy LaRoue are staff writers for The News Virginian in Waynesboro, Va.


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