After Obama Win, Washington Reflects

People at Washington's Lincoln Memorial and other places in the city offer their views on the result of the 2008 presidential election. Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican John McCain to become the first African-American president in the nation's history.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. This morning, as I thought about what it means for this country to have elected its first African-American president, I wanted to spend some time at the Lincoln Memorial. And I wasn't alone in seeking out that simple, elegant marble temple. I found Pat Dolby (ph) of Arlington Virginia, standing at the foot of Lincoln's statue, looking intently at the president's face.

Ms. PAT DOLBY: I was wondering if he thought this day would ever come when we would elect, you know, a person of color as our president. And I don't know, probably not. But I think about my 81-year-old mother, who grew up in a segregated society, and she cast her ballot yesterday for a black man. That, to me, is truly amazing. It's just incredible. I do believe that we're the only country in the world that where something like this could happen. So, I'm very proud to be an American today.

BLOCK: Josh Rosenberg (ph) of Washington D.C. made it a special point to run up the memorial steps on his jog today. He spent a long time inside, staring at Lincoln's words from 1865 engraved in stone.

Mr. JOSH ROSENBERG: It's so appropriate to be here in front of Lincoln today and just rereading the second inaugural address and retracing some of those steps of history and standing where Martin Luther King stood. You know, it really does make you realize how far we've come from the division of the time of Lincoln's second inaugural address, and those words almost seems so prophetic for a morning like this.

BLOCK: What words were you reading in there that made you stop and think?

Mr. ROSENBERG: Malice for none, charity for all. And, you know, Lincoln talks about not judging those, lest we be judged ourselves and, you know, really just trying to stand in the shoes of the people at the time who were so bitterly divided, you know, a nation completely divided. And you know, when you look at the map last night, and it's just a red and blue divided line. You know, I hope we can start to blur those lines again.

BLOCK: Stand on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech on a summer day in 1963, stand there and think about that incredible crowd on the National Mall listening to Dr. King remind them of the fierce urgency of now. Stand there and here the echoes of Dr. King's dream, that one day his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

BLOCK: Five-month-old Clyde L. Jackson IV(ph) came with his mother, Miada Jackson (ph), today to another Washington, D.C. landmark, Ben's Chili Bowl, a legendary business in Washington's black community for 50 years now. It's on U Street. That was where the 1968 riots began in Washington after Dr. King was assassinated. Miada Jackson of Oxon Hill, Maryland, originally from Sierra Leone, says she knew she had to come to Ben's Chili Bowl today.

Ms. MIADA JACKSON: Yeah, I couldn't even sleep last night. I was alone making noise, and my husband was asleep. The kids were asleep, and I couldn't even scream. So I was - I needed to just vent out today.

BLOCK: You know, we're here on U Street, and it's pretty stunning to think about 40 years ago, what was going on here, riots, and here we are.

Ms. JACKSON: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. And I just keep thinking about Martin Luther King and what he died for, and this is it. Basically, people died and people bled and sweat for this and really lost their lives for this. And this is humongous. It's really huge, and I'm so happy to be a U.S. citizen while all of this is happening. Because in Africa, believe me, they're partying right now. In London, my aunts did not sleep. They called in.

This is all over the world. Not because he's black, but because he means he represents everybody else. It's because he represents the normal common man who, you know, raised by a single mother, the whole nine, didn't come from pedigree. So, it's just nice to know that one of us can make it. Our children have hope.

BLOCK: You just pointed to your son in his stroller here.

Ms. JACKSON: Yes, next one. The next president, there you go.

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After Historic Win, Obama Looks Forward

A woman in Harlem expresses her happiness Wednesday following Obama's victory. i i

A woman in Harlem expresses her happiness Wednesday following Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election. Nick Potts/PA Wire/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Nick Potts/PA Wire/AP
A woman in Harlem expresses her happiness Wednesday following Obama's victory.

A woman in Harlem expresses her happiness Wednesday following Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election.

Nick Potts/PA Wire/AP
President-elect Barack Obama addresses supporters during his victory rally at Chicago's Grant Park. i i

President-elect Barack Obama addresses supporters during his victory rally at Chicago's Grant Park on Tuesday night. Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
President-elect Barack Obama addresses supporters during his victory rally at Chicago's Grant Park.

President-elect Barack Obama addresses supporters during his victory rally at Chicago's Grant Park on Tuesday night.

Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

After sweeping to a decisive victory in a historic race for the White House, Democrat Barack Obama turned his attention Wednesday to his transition into office.

The Obama campaign released the names of the people who will help guide the changeover: John Podesta, President Bill Clinton's former chief of staff; Valerie Jarrett, a longtime Obama confidant; and Peter Rouse, Obama's chief of staff in the Senate, will serve as co-chairs of the transition team. They will be assisted by an advisory board that includes Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and several former Clinton Cabinet members: William Daley, who served as commerce secretary; Carol Browner, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and former Transportation and Energy Secretary Federico Pena.

Obama cautioned his supporters Tuesday night that many challenges lie ahead that will not be quickly resolved, including "two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century."

"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep," the 44th president-elect said in a victory speech in Chicago's Grant Park. "We may not get there in one year, or even one term, but America — I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you: We as a people will get there."

The urgency of the economic crisis in particular had Democrats predicting that Obama will move quickly to begin assembling a White House staff and selecting Cabinet nominees. President Bush, in a brief address at the White House on Wednesday, said he would work for a smooth transition of power.

A Historic Election

The first African-American to be elected to the nation's highest office put his victory in perspective Tuesday night, echoing the sentiments of the late Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement four decades before.

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer," Obama told the cheering crowd in Chicago.

"It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment," he said, "change has come to America."

Throughout the nearly two-year campaign, Obama himself rarely raised the historic significance of his race. Asked in an interview with 60 Minutes why he didn't talk more about the fact that he is black, Obama smiled and said he figured people could see that.

Bush, in his remarks Wednesday, acknowledged the "historic breakthrough" of the election.

"No matter how they cast their ballots, all Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday," he said.

Tallying Up The Votes

For Obama's Republican rival, John McCain, it was an election season that left his campaign groping for a message that resonated with voters after the war on terrorism was supplanted by the economy as the major concern.

In the end, 60 percent of people said the economy was the most important issue facing the nation, according to an Associated Press exit poll. None of the other top issues — energy, Iraq, terrorism and health care — was selected by more than 1 in 10.

Obama's Electoral College landslide included all of the states that voted Democratic four years ago. But he also won a number of key states that had supported President Bush, including Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia and Indiana — the last two of which had not voted for a Democratic president since 1964.

With most U.S. precincts tallied, the popular vote was 52 percent for Obama and 46 percent for McCain. The count in the Electoral College was more heavily lopsided in Obama's favor — 349 to 162 as of Wednesday afternoon, with North Carolina and Missouri still to be decided.

Obama's candidacy energized African-Americans, who turned out as never before. They increased their share of the electorate to 13 percent, and nearly one-fifth were first-time voters. Some said they never imagined a black man would be elected president in their lifetime.

Obama also captured voters across income and education levels, age groups and race. Although he trailed McCain among white voters, he did better among whites than John Kerry did four years ago.

Reaching Across The Aisle

Obama's campaign was the best-financed in memory, using the Internet to solicit a large number of new donors and breaking a promise to accept limited public financing for the general campaign. This allowed Obama to blanket the airwaves with ads attacking McCain on the economy, his health care plan and other issues.

McCain also aired a series of negative ads, and the last few weeks of the nearly two-year-long campaign battle turned bitter. Twice in his concession speech, when McCain mentioned Obama's win, the crowd erupted into boos. McCain quieted them, urging all Americans to "find the necessary compromises and bridge differences."

In his speech, Obama also reached out to McCain's supporters. "I may not have won your vote," he said, "but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your president, too."

From NPR and wire reports.

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