Jan. 20 absentee ballot for overseas voters

Senate Dem 58   GOP 41   Ties 1
House Dem 257   GOP 178  

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News from the Votemaster

Barack Obama to Be Sworn in as 44th President Today

Barack Obama will take the oath of office today at noon. You probably knew that. What you might not have known is the immense effort the Secret Service has put into protecting him from the estimated 2-5 million people who are expected to show up for the inauguration, most of them friendly, but a few probably not so friendly. He will speak from behind a huge bulletproof glass window and the whole town will be crawling with counter snipers, an elite unit of the Secret Service whose members are not only expert marksmen, but each of whom has a very high-performance rifle customized to the shooter's height and arm length. Normally the Secret Service doesn't like a lot of publicity (for example, about the security features of the beast, the James Bond-like armored limo the President gets driven around in), but they have publicized the counter snipers quite widely.

One thing the Secret Service can't protect Obama from is the weather. It is expected to be a cloudy day today with temperatures below freezing. No doubt Obama is aware of the fact that the ninth President, William Henry Harrison, gave a two-hour inaugural speech in freezing weather in 1841, caught cold, got pneumonia, and died a month after inauguration (although doctors and historians are still arguing about whether his inaugural address led to his death). In any event, it certainly led to a consitutional crisis as nobody knew whether Vice President John Tyler would become President or merely be the acting President. As usual in these matters, the Supreme Court got into the act and said he could take the oath and become President.

An Amazing Year

Back on Jan. 20, 2008, few people expected Barack Obama to take the oath of office today. Most observers were expecting a race between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney. I was at least expecting Hillary Clinton vs. John McCain, a bit better than many. Obama's triumph over not one, but two, experienced, dedicated, hardworking, serious opponents is quite amazing in retrospect. No doubt the coming year will have its surprises as well.

Much ink and many pixels have been spilled on Obama's plans for the economy and the country in general. He has one good thing going for him, though: no expectations of a silver bullet. He has repeatedly said we are in for some hard times this year and some of the problems may take years to solve. People's lowered expectations may give him a lot of leeway and may prolong his honeymoon. It is a good way to start. In analogous circumstances, George Bush squandered an opportunity. Imagine that on Sept. 12, 2001, he had put the economy on a war footing, raised taxes, and asked everyone to sacrifice in order to catch Osama bin Laden and dismantle al-Qaida. The whole country would have rallied behind him. Instead he said: "Go shopping." Obama is promising something closer to Winston Churchill's famous remark: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." The 2010 elections are likely to hinge on how well this goes over.

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