There are, of course, valuable lessons we all can draw from President Obama's inauguration and, more specifically, the address he delivered Tuesday. But if Democrats hope to succeed, there are also important lessons that Obama and his party should learn from the estimated 1.8 million men and women who gathered on the Mall on a particularly cold winter day to participate in history.
Walking home from Obama's inauguration parade Tuesday, I passed a sidewalk vendor outside the United House of Prayer near downtown Washington. He was selling grilled catfish -- or, as he called it, "Obama fish."
"Obama fish, get your Obama fish!" he yelled. "Get it now, while it's hot!"
It was a brilliant, if somewhat obvious, piece of marketing. And his catfish sold like, well, hot cakes.
Those who gathered downtown Tuesday displayed a surprising degree of patience and perseverance. Obama should do the same.
The simple lesson here is that the Obama brand is hot, for now. Democrats should take advantage of the sky-high approval ratings currently enjoyed by their new president, if not necessarily their party overall, in trying to sell an aggressive agenda to a weary nation. While Americans on average don't view Obama as favorably as the swaddled masses who lined the streets of Washington this week, the principle remains the same: If they see Obama connected to an idea, voters are disproportionately more likely to support it.
Does this mean Democrats should abandon their own priorities and fall in line blindly behind Obama? No. But for now, for better or worse, they'll be hard-pressed to move any piece of an ambitious agenda without Obama fully on board.
Those who gathered downtown Tuesday also displayed a surprising degree of patience and perseverance in pursuit of a common goal: to arrive before noon at their ticketed Capitol seat, a nearby street-corner perch or a patch of grass on the Mall. They hauled shivering children and large blankets as they waited in lines made long by slow metal detectors or extensive security checkpoints. When patience wore thin, even when it looked like the delays might prevent them from witnessing the swearing-in ceremony, they sang songs and turned to strangers to make new friends. In the end, most folks arrived at their destination on time.
Obama should do the same. While he enjoys the most favorable landscape an incoming president has faced in more than 40 years, the new president surely will run into roadblocks that threaten to derail his agenda, slow his momentum and deplete the enormous trove of goodwill he now draws upon. Early setbacks will pose unprecedented tests to the cool, calm demeanor he displayed during the campaign. And his ability to remain patient and persevere will decide how effectively he ultimately can perform.
Also, while more than a million people clogged the capital's streets Tuesday, police didn't make one single arrest. If Democrats can pull off the same thing for the next two years, avoiding indictment of lawmakers and administration officials, they'll be well on their way to a successful cycle.
Finally, Americans everywhere took the time Tuesday to listen to every word of Obama's 18-minute speech. A woman standing near me at the Canadian Embassy was so focused on Obama's speech that the hot dog she was holding fell from its bun onto the pavement. Perhaps more than anything, Democrats should do the same, listening to voices from all directions -- while holding onto their hot dogs.