From the time I was a very little girl -- seriously, from about the time I started reading -- I read biographies. I remember a series of biographies written especially for kids and I would devour those things. Every week at the school library, I'd take one or two home with me. I'd read them over and over. Sometime in the 5th grade, the librarian joked with me that those biographies would collect dust when I moved along to the 6th grade and she showed me that I was the only one who ever checked out about half of them, and my name was there four, five, six times.
In middle school and early high school, I was the typical adolescent -- movie star struck. I still read a lot of biographies (and at this point I moved on to classic literature as well) but the bios tended to be of celebrities, as opposed to the Virginia Dare, Betsy Ross, Sacajewea, Clara Barton books of my youth.
But during that adolescence, Watergate happened, and Watergate was THE topic of conversation at my grandparents' house, where I spent a good deal of time. My grandpa put his cassette recorder by the television and taped the hearings, then would listen to them again in the evening and on weekends. He made me want to know, he made me want to care about politics. I took an interest in this Gerald Ford guy, and followed the 1976 election closely, and the 1980 primaries, still too young to vote and unsure yet of any ideological leanings, I knew that there was something about that George Herbert Walker Bush guy that I liked. I went back to the nonfiction section of the school library and started taking out the books on history and biographies on presidents.
In my sophomore year of college, I needed a speech topic, and I couldn't come up with anything. I met with my professor who asked me what my favorite classes were outside of the writing/English classes. I said history and politics classes. She asked what I liked best about history, and I said the presidents. She told me to pick a president, someone from before FDR, learn about him, and present a speech that would make the case why we should know about this president (and not any of the usual suspects). I picked Theodore Roosevelt, and once I started learning, I couldn't stop. My office is filled with books about TR.
But my library is filled with biographies of almost all the presidents, as well as the first ladies, and tons of general reference books and anecdotal books and books about other political figures who influenced these presidents. It is an insatiable passion of mine.
And it should be no surprise that when primaries and elections and inaugurations come around, I'm in my total element. I've tried to talk to people about primaries and elections and inaugurations, but it's difficult. People are too passionate about their ideologies. I have my ideologies, to be sure, and I struggle at times to see the other person's point of view. But I don't really watch presidential politics like most people I know. Let's just say there aren't a whole lot of things that surprise me about a candidate or his administration.
I love inauguration day. I've watched every one since Reagan 1984, taking vacation days when I had to. I used to tape them all, too, until Bush 2004. I watch from early in the morning, when they attend church services, to late in the evening, through the balls. I think it should be a national holiday, to celebrate this greatest of American traditions. I've watched when the guy I disliked was sworn in; I've watched when the guy I voted for was sworn in.
So what did I see yesterday, beyond the pomp and circumstance and the unusual historic relevance of this election? I saw a new president faced with the task Lincoln had before him -- to reunite a severely divided nation -- and faced with the task Grover Cleveland and FDR and Ronald Reagan had before them -- to fix a nation that seems to be imploding -- and the task of Richard Nixon -- to end an unpopular war -- and the task of Theodore Roosevelt -- to put greed in check. This would have been the task that fell to whomever won the election. I also saw a vitality and youthful exuberance I've never seen before in an inauguration (and remember, the Clintons were about the same age when they took office in 1993). It had little to do with the crowd, but with Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden themselves.
The biggest takeaway? What I take away every four years -- that the exchange of power happens smoothly and that even if the opposition doesn't like it, well, they have a chance to change it in the next election.