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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Tuesday, January 20

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

Guest: Ken Burns, Melissa Harris-Lacewell

High: Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States.

Spec: Barack Obama; Government; Politics

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over):  Which of these presidents will you be talking about tomorrow?



JOHN ROBERTS, U.S. CHIEF JUSTICE:  Congratulations, Mr. President.



OLBERMANN:  The 44th president of the United States.


OBAMA:  On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.


OLBERMANN:  Insistently invoking the future, insistently invoking the traditions of the past, offering a hand to those who will unclench a fist, offering a warning stern to others.


OBAMA:  And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken, you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.


OLBERMANN:  And proving the rest of us can neither outlast nor out-think him, hopping from the presidential limo to hurry up a crawling parade, handling with grace and aplomb.  The sudden but apparently more frightening than serious convulsions of Senator Ted Kennedy at the luncheon.

With Howard Fineman on the speech, its repudiation of President Bush and Senator Kennedy‘s condition.  Richard Wolffe, on the man who is suddenly the former president of the United States, and Republicans holding up Secretary of State Clinton‘s inevitable confirmation.  Ken Burns on the history in the making as it was made.  Bishop T.D. Jakes preached to one president today and spoke to his predecessor.  Melissa Harris-Lacewell on the vitality already evident of a president with a vital, young family.

And with Al Roker—finally getting an Inauguration Day interview after 12 years of trying.



OBAMA:  It‘s warm!


ROKER:  Yes, it‘s warm!  It‘s warm!  Thank you!

He told me it‘s warm!


OLBERMANN:  The president with the puckish sense of humor tells the nation‘s best-known weatherman that it‘s warm, when the wind-chill was 15.

All of that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.


OBAMA:  That we did not turn back nor did we falter, and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God‘s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely for future generations.


OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening.  This is Tuesday, January 20th, day one of the administration of President Barack Obama.

For those who believe this would never come, for whom the last eight years have seemed endless, the past 11 weeks since the election entirely too surreal to be anything other than a dream.  Rest assured this hour that it actually happened, finally change is upon us.  Barack Hussein Obama is tonight the 44th president of the United States.

Mr. Obama, taking the oath of office at the U.S. Capitol, behind me here, at 12:05 Eastern Time this afternoon, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts.  And both the chief justice and the man he made president is stumbling slightly over the wording of the presidential oath.  Neither, of course, having done this before.  It mattered not.

An estimated and elated 1,800,000 people having turned out in the bone-chilling cold to witness the transfer of power, but it was to a global audience that President Obama addressed his speech, signaling a sharp break in foreign policy from the previous administration, without sacrificing national security.


OBAMA:  We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.  To all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.


OBAMA:  We will not apologize for our way of life.  Nor will we waver in its defense.  And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken, you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.


OBAMA:  To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  To those leaders around the globe who seek to sell conflicts or blame their society‘s ills on the west, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you can destroy.  To those .


OBAMA:  To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.


OLBERMANN:  The other significant theme of the inaugural address, the many crises facing the nation as the new president takes office, and the fact that President Obama does not plan on solving them alone.


OBAMA:  Today, I say to you that the challenges we face are real.  They are serious and they are many.  They will not be met easily or in a short span of time.  But know this, America, they will be met.


OBAMA:  On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.  On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility—a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying of the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed—why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.


OBAMA:  With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents and endure what storms may come.  Let it be said by our children‘s children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter, and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God‘s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.



OLBERMANN:  The day not without a scare nor without a measure of sadness.  At a post-inaugural luncheon in Statuary Hall in the Capitol, Senator Kennedy suffering a seizure, soon taken away by ambulance.

In his remarks at the luncheon, President Obama is saying his prayers were with Senator Kennedy and his family.


OBAMA:  I would be lying to you if I did not say that, right now, a part of me is with him.  And I think that‘s true for all of us.  This is a joyous time, but it‘s also a sobering time.  And my prayers are with him and his family and Vicki.


OLBERMANN:  The good news about Senator Kennedy in a moment with MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, also, of course, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine is here with me now.

Good evening, Howard.


OLBERMANN:  America‘s first African-American president, this turns out merely to be a jumping-off point for the percentage of history we saw r redirected today, I would suspect.

FINEMAN:  Yes, but before we leave that jumping off point, let‘s say that it took 400 years to get to this point.


FINEMAN:  We climbed the huge mountain.  We steal the ghost of slavery, of the civil war, of deaths that led to freedom in the end.  And that can‘t be overstated.

And we climb that mountain, thanks in part to that few minutes in which Barack Obama was sworn in as the new president of the United States.  But as soon as we climbed one mountain, Barack Obama said, “Oh, by the way, there‘s another one over there and we‘ve got to climb it.”  And he set out to lead us there.

OLBERMANN:  He also set out, I think, to point out the mountain that has been placed in front of us .


OLBERMANN:  . by his predecessor, who‘s already out of the district, out of the time zone.  Could there have been a stronger repudiation of George Bush‘s policies without it being, I don‘t know, sounding a little bit like some script from this show?

I mean, he was pretty forceful on the expedience of cutting corners with the Constitution, on eavesdropping.  He didn‘t mention these things but you know what he was talking about.  He mentioned Iraq specifically, and certainly, that “shoot first” policy.

FINEMAN:  No, I think it was very stunning, although it was gently done in a sense that he didn‘t turn around and say “Worst Person in the World.”


FINEMAN:  But, yes, and it was a clear—the break—the thing is that Obama as a person and Obama‘s entire campaign, and the way it was run and what it stood for, he spoke a clean, clear sharp break with the immediate past, which is the Bush presidency.  He almost didn‘t need to see more but he did say more because as he was turning forward, he was pushing away from the past.  And I thought he did it, cleanly, clinically and without looking back in the end.

OLBERMANN:  Did he suggest in there to what degree is he going to pursue remedies to those situations, apart from discontinuing what we saw under the Bush administration?

FINEMAN:  Oh, yes, absolutely, both in terms of domestic and foreign policy.  Domestic and foreign—on domestic policy, he said, “Look, it‘s not like what Ronald Reagan said, which is, ‘Government is the problem.‘  It‘s not like what the old liberal Democrat said, ‘everything is government.‘  We‘re going to pick and choose and be practical and realistic.  If it helps the American people, we will use government.”  That is different from George Bush in most respects.

On foreign policy he said, if you unclench your fist, we will shake your hand.  And that is a very different philosophy from “shoot first, and ask questions later” of west Texas that we just saw leaving in a helicopter a few hours ago.

OLBERMANN:  Tell me about Senator Kennedy, you‘re reporting on this was leading unfortunately a sad story, what appeared to be perhaps a tragic one in terms of its timing.  I guess we can now reclassify this to one of our most beloved viewers as more of a shock and a surprise than a tragedy.

FINEMAN:  That‘s right.  And it was very scary.  What happened in Statuary Hall is that Ted Kennedy was sitting at one of the tables there in that beautiful room filled with giant statues.  He‘s having lunch.  They‘re serving the desserts.  Suddenly, he begins to have what appears to be a seizure.

And knowing his history and the fact that he‘s battling brain cancer, the medics were immediately brought in, an announcement was made, and people stood in silence in respect and concern for Ted Kennedy while he was wheeled out in a wheelchair that he was in already that he was put back in a medical way.

It turns out when he got to the hospital, he was talking, he was fine. 

These seizures are going to be a part of his life now.


FINEMAN:  But knowing what a lion he is, I guarantee you, if there is a health care bill and eventually there will be, Ted Kennedy will be there to see it pass.

OLBERMANN:  And the doctors are, at this point anyway, attributing this to the result of fatigue from, well—you and I froze to death out here.  I mean, it was serious, frightening—frightening enough from the description that we got from one of the senators that President Obama was hustled away for a moment because they didn‘t know what was going on.

FINEMAN:  Yes, it was a scary moment.

OLBERMANN:  A moment of reality in the middle of the celebration .


OLBERMANN:  . but fortunately, it was more symbolism that trouble.

FINEMAN:  The symbolism—the symbolism, rather, turns out to be hopeful one .


FINEMAN:  . because Teddy‘s still around.

OLBERMANN:  And what happens tomorrow?

FINEMAN:  Well, what happens tomorrow is Barack Obama has a prayer meeting, which is appropriate, given all the problems that he outlined.  He‘ll probably go to the gym and he‘ll get to work.  They‘ve been working for weeks.


FINEMAN:  They have this scheduled out by the minute, by the day, by the month.  At the luncheon, Rahm Emanuel, the new chief of staff was sitting with John McCain who is going to be Obama‘s go-to guy in the Republican side.  Tim Geithner, the treasury secretary is sitting with Harry Reid.  The business and deal-making had already begun.

OLBERMANN:  How much, in terms of odds could you gotten that John McCain would be the go-to guy for Obama in the Senate and the Arizona Cardinals would be in the Super Bowl?


OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman, a pleasure as always, sir.

FINEMAN:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And then there was the man who was back in Texas before his successor‘s inaugural was even over.  George W. Bush, gone but not forgotten, and, apparently, is inspiring a Texas senator to an obstructionist act against the woman who will still inevitably be the secretary of state.

And as the future attains “the urgency of now,” the president gives the Al Rocker an exclusive inauguration day interview.  Well, two-word exclusive Inauguration Day interview.


OLBERMANN:  After the attacks of September 11th, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani talked about suspending the city‘s imminent election, to extending without popular vote his term in office, because the situation, he said, demanded it.  Today, even if Mr. Bush perhaps left only because he had no interest in dealing with the situations, he has fostered, at the end of it all, we can say this at least of him—he left on time.

Transformed by the Constitution‘s 20th Amendment into former President George W. Bush, the company out not by the strains of “Hail to the Chief” but the 1969 hit from the studio group Steam, “Na, na, na, na, na, na, hey, hey, goodbye.”  He left a note contents unknown for the new president in the presidential desk.  The departing first lady, meantime, got a new journal from the new first lady.

Then, left for Andrews Air Force base were citizen Bush addressed old cohorts, Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales and others, fittingly in secretly, then they all left for Midland, Texas, where tonight, he spoke to a welcoming rally at last night, still had 1,800 tickets available and the tickets were free.


GEORGE BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  Today was a great day for America and a good man took the oath for office.  And we all offer our prayer for his success.


BUSH:  Today‘s also a great day for the Bush family.  We‘re back in the state of Texas, and we are here to stay.



OLBERMANN:  And six hours after the oath of office, change—real change.  The White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is ordering all federal agencies to halt every pending Bush-era regulation until the new administration can review them.  The Senate, earlier, had confirmed some of those administration‘s heads.  Obama‘s secretaries of energy, education, homeland security, although, she won‘t start until tomorrow, interior, veterans affairs and agriculture and the chief of OMB.

Not confirmed, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton.  One Republican, John Cornyn out of Texas, blocking a simple voice vote, forcing a roll call vote which she is expected to win easily but not until tomorrow.

With me tonight, MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, also senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Good to see you, Obama White House correspondent.


OLBERMANN:  First up, what happened with Secretary-to-be Clinton today?

WOLFFE:  Well, Republicans don‘t obviously want to sing with the chorus “We are one.”  Here is a situation where they are flexing their muscles.  John Cornyn, no coincidence, is the senator most closely-linked and friendly with President Bush, ex-President Bush, of course.

So, you know, the comity, the cordiality between the former presidents isn‘t there.  She will get obviously confirmed very shortly.  But this is a warning sign that she can still raise money for Republicans.  Remember, Republicans need a running cry and so far it‘s Al Franken and Bill Clinton.

OLBERMANN:  One would think someone in the back of the soon-to-be secretary of state‘s mind there also a little notation made of Mr. Cornyn‘s name when that opportunity arises for her.  The first press release, the significance of this, symbolically and practically, of Rahm Emanuel halting pending Bush regulations, including all of the last-minute ones—explain what‘s going on here and where it‘s going next?

WOLFFE:  Well, it‘s a holding position.  I don‘t think the Bush White House was rushing this stuff through secretly.  But you never know until they have full staff in there.  Only skeleton staff moved into today.

And what we saw in fact was actually the reverse of some expectations.  We thought Bush would come in with a whole slew of pardons.  That didn‘t materialize—much maybe to Scooter Libby‘s dismay.

So, what you have here is Rahm Emanuel being—taking a cautious perspective here.  But remember what Bush did to the Clinton executive orders, in the end, he rolled those back very, very quickly.

OLBERMANN:  President Reagan‘s note to Bush 41, 20-odd years ago, don‘t let the turkeys get you down.  Do we know if Mr. Bush matched the great communicator‘s gift for imagery there in his farewell note to Mr.  Obama?

WOLFFE:  Well, of course, it‘s secret.  So, he could have done, “Don‘t let my legacy let you down.”


WOLFFE:  You know, there are lots of things—I think he was probably very, very gracious.  He has actually been very cooperative.  Probably more gracious before the inaugural address.  Afterwards, there were so many hits in there.  I doubt he would have written such a nice note.

OLBERMANN:  And lastly, about Rove and Gonzales and Karen Hughes—what kind of farewell did they get today?

WOLFFE:  Well, the president is among friends.  They may be the last friends he has.  One of his friends was telling me that in a recent trip to Midland, they had a fund-raiser there, the chant went up in the room, four more years, which is maybe the only place that he could possibly have had that response.  So, you know, I think you can say he feels a bit comfortable back in Midland.

OLBERMANN:  Was somebody doing that seriously?  Was it sarcasm?  Or was it someone who‘s not aware of the Constitution?

WOLFFE:  Apparently, eight years wasn‘t enough for Midland.

OLBERMANN:  Or they didn‘t want him back.

Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, I‘ll leave you off the hook on answering that last question—great thanks as always, good to see you, sir.

WOLFFE:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMAN:  All of the best.

Few men converse at length with both of the presidents of the day. 

Bishop T.D. Jakes did and he joins us next.

The president is not the only Obama making history tonight.  What having a young family in the White House now means to the national psyche.

And let there be balls.  Don‘t forget, after Rachel, she and I and Chris Matthews and Gene Robinson will bring you two more live hours tonight from the dress-up galas here in D.C.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  We noted this at the Democratic convention in Denver but it repeating tonight.  The New York Yankees finally moved their training site from Saint Petersburg, Florida, across the state to Fort Lauderdale because the team had finally had enough of segregated housing rules being applied to its star African-American catcher, Elston Howard.  The move took place in 1962 but it was finalized in the summer of 1961.  As the historical yard-marker, the summer of 1961 is when President Barack Obama was born.

History happens when it wants to.  The clock struck noon, the hour at which the new president becomes the new president before or after the swearing of any oaths.  Today, that might had happened while the classical quartet featuring Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero, and Anthony McGill were playing.  A full five minutes before Chief Justice Roberts actually administered the oath of office and history became official.

Speaking of which, I‘m joined by a man who‘s chronicled our political history, our racial history, our baseball history, among others, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

Good evening, my friend.


OLBERMANN:  If they Gettysburg address or Doctor King‘s speech were tens on the one-to-ten scale of you wish you could have been there.

BURNS:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Where does this whole day rank do you suppose?  It‘s early to really set in history but where might it rank?

BURNS:  Right.  And I was there.


BURNS:  It‘s an 11.  I think this is the beginning of our third act as a country.

First act, Thomas Jefferson says, “All men are created equal” but he actually means all white men, property free of debt.  Four scores and seven years later, Abraham Lincoln says, “Look, we really mean it,” but it‘s going to be another 100 years.  And when Barack Obama took the oath of office, that was the beginning of our third act, of real possibilities and it also means that the civil war is over.

And there‘s something really great in this speech, too, at the end, in reparation, when he is talking about hope, which was the rather passive idea of the campaign and now virtue, which is the insistence of now, of action.

OLBERMANN:  Another thing about converting hopes, wishes, slogans even, into action, what we heard from former President Bush for eight years was spreading democracy.

BURNS:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  Whereas—it was actually constrained at home rather than being spread here, let alone to anywhere else, and it was—and there were attempts to force democracy on other people.  Did—what we saw today—did it showcase the very best of our democratic ideas in a way that a planned exercise, a media campaign, a war could not possibly do?

BURNS:  Absolutely.  We‘re the only country on earth stitched together by words and most important, they‘re dangerous, progeny ideas.  And those ideas have had weight.  They have had force, not just for us in our eternal dealings, but for the rest of the world.

And we have watched the erosion of the power of those ideas, and, therefore, the words and even in this campaign, remember we mocked the possibility that someone who could speak well, who could contain who we were as a people, that those words didn‘t have value?  And he‘s all the way up here.

OLBERMANN:  Well, and all of the evolutions, and there are a series of them, and you have obviously chronicled so many in your various series about the reinventions of the society.

BURNS:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Some of them take centuries.  Some of them, as you suggest, have taken 400 years on this continent.  But here is one in which we have gone just from that position that you mentioned—the other idea of what a candidate was, the guy you wanted to have the beer with as opposed to the guy you‘d like to have lead your country in a time of crisis.

BURNS:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  We changed the criteria back and rejected anything that looked like the last president.  Is there another country that has this capacity for reinvention?

BURNS:  I don‘t think so.  You know, when we point to life and liberty, we forget the pursuit of happiness.  And the idea is not even just happiness it‘s the pursuit.  We‘re a nation in the process of becoming.

And Barack Obama understands that and is able to contain that in all of his rhetoric better than anyone I‘ve seen.  All of our great heroes are actually less than what we make them out to be.  And I‘ve always struggled with that over the course of studying American history.

And what I‘ve come to understand and what I know this president that we have today understands is that the difference between, say, how Abraham Lincoln actually was and how we make him is our wish for ourselves.  And Barack Obama has understood that it is the articulation of that wish for ourselves—something we do, that‘s better than anything else.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Not to go too far with the Lincoln analogies, because they are a dime a dozen and, in fact, the president has used them himself.

BURNS:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  So, you tend to be .

BURNS:  The tall, skinny lawyers (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN:  Well, you tend to be a little suspicious of hearing this again and again, but .

BURNS:  But.

OLBERMANN:  . in terms of events, the thing that struck me before the sun was up today, coming through these crowds, were the descriptions that, in particularly, Gabor Boritt wrote about in Gettysburg Gospel.  I mentioned this early in the morning, if I‘m repeating myself for anybody who is hearing this again.  But he described in this small town of 2,500 or small city of 2,500 in Gettysburg in November of 1873 tens of thousands of people gathered to hear the orator Edward Everett and also President Lincoln, by the way.  But most of these people not staying in other people‘s houses.  Certainly, there were not hotels. 

People 25,000, 30,000 people sleeping in the open fields in the freezing weather, sleeping out under blankets out under the stars.  It wasn‘t quite like that.  But there were people who wanted to see this speech and see that parade who put that kind of effort to it in 10-degree wind chills. 

BURNS:  I was out there with people from—black women from Kansas City that had come from 18th and Vine, the jazz and baseball Negro League Museum, saying they were there for Buck and people from Hawaii.  All over the place, we brave the cold.  This is the story. 

When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, his young 23 year old secretary John Hayes said everybody felt a sort of exhilarating thing, that the proclamation had freed them as well as the slaves.  And another fighter said the cause is ennobled, the war is ennobled.  The object is higher. 

I think what we feel today in the air is the sense of the object being higher. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, we‘re now going to get a chance to listen to a little of President Obama at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball.  This is the first of the balls of the evening.  Here is the president. 

OBAMA:  I—first of all, how good looking is my wife?  I want to thank all of you. 

I want to thank all of you not merely for helping me get elected, but I want to thank each and every one of you, and all of the people who are watching tonight, for what you do to make this country better. 

Now, this is the neighborhood ball.  And we got the idea from the Neighborhood Ball because we are neighborhood people.  And I cut my teeth doing neighborhood work.  And this campaign was organized neighborhood by neighborhood. 

And if you think about it, the word neighborhood starts with neighbor, because it indicates a sense that we as Americans are bound together, that what we have in common is more important than what drives us apart.  And that‘s why of all of the balls that are taking place tonight, along with the Commander in Chief Ball for our military, who we honor, this ball is the one that captures best, I think, the spirit of this campaign. 

We are going to need you not just today, not just tomorrow, but this year, for the next four years and who knows after that, because together we are going to change America.  Thank you, guys. 

OLBERMANN:  The president at the Neighborhood Ball.  And again with Ken Burns.  The same thing, it‘s—it‘s a modernized, souped-up version of many of the predecessors.  And it does hearken back to Lincoln.  It is demanding responsibility of everybody.  I‘m going to need you. 

BURNS:  It is Jack Kennedy.  It seems to have the force of a Lyndon Johnson, I know how to get this through.  It has some of the humility that Carter tried to engage and couldn‘t do, slipped a few cogs.  And even has, of course, all of that passionate idolatry that we endow on him of the Bill Clinton. 

He has put them all together and taken the best of these guys.  And he‘s our 44th president.  Glory, Hallelujah. 

OLBERMANN:  And as he pointed out, he brought out the biggest thing to advertise first, mention first, the Jason Woo dress, in fact, I‘m advised. 

Let‘s listen in briefly to the first dance and the music supplied by Beyonce. 


OLBERMANN:  And a little more on the Jason Woo, the design there.  He‘s a 26-year-old designer who lives in New York.  I have now exhausted everything I know about fashion.  Ken Burns, whose next project on PBS next year will be the “History of the National Parks.”  And then “Baseball, the Tenth Inning,” I‘m looking forward to that. 

BURNS:  Yes, I wonder who we should get to talk about baseball?  We‘ll figure out somebody. 

OLBERMANN:  Just don‘t do history of fashion, because then I‘m of no use to you whatsoever.  Great pleasure to see you, sir.  Especially today. 

BURNS:  Thank you.   

OLBERMANN:  We asked Sasha Obama what she thought living in a place as big of the White House.  The impact of a presidential family and the meaning of this day as we telescope the pageantry and the scare and the laughs into another COUNTDOWN time capsule. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, her special guest Dr. Terrance Roberts, one of the students who broke the color line at Little Rock High School in 1957.  What this day meant to him. 


OLBERMANN:  For a moment, the pageantry and the history were trumped by cardboard boxes.  At the very moment the president-elect prepared to transition to being president, the moving van pulled up in front of the White House, the moving van with Obama‘s stuff in it.  The new family has moved into town.  Symbolically, he has moved into everybody‘s town. 

As since we know that President Obama‘s daughters might be his toughest critics, we have this, a thumb‘s up from seven-year-old Sasha Obama after her father‘s speech.  Ten-year-old Malia Obama evidently had some post address comments as well.  She had previously told her farther the speech better be good.  The whirlwind of the past few days included the Obama daughters being brought on stage and dancing at the Jonas Brothers performance last night for the Kids Inaugural, We are the Future Concert. 

Let‘s turn to the associate professor of politics and African American studies of Princeton University, Melissa Harris Lacewell.  Thanks for your time tonight.   

MELISSA HARRIS LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY:  Absolutely.  I‘m thrilled to be here. 

OLBERMANN:  This family, at a time when the collective natural energy seems to be pretty low after the last eight years—is the family by itself going to do something significant, go a long way perhaps towards injecting that energy back into our collective psyche? 

LACEWELL:  I think so.  The other morning, I came out from my room, and I found my mother, who is retired, and lives at home with me and helps me with my seven-year-old daughter.  And she was kissing the front page of the paper. 

I said what are you doing?  She said, Mama Robinson is moving into the White House.  There is going to be a first granny.  And there was a sense of how those little girls reflect something important in the life of my daughter, how Mama Robinson reflects something important about so many of us who are in that sandwich generation, who need our parents‘ help to make our professional lives and personal lives work. 

The Obamas are a truly 21st century American family.  I think it excites all of us to get to watch this all happen. 

OLBERMANN:  Is she the long shot for winning the headliner award out of this family?  Is she the person who has not yet been—whose role here, perhaps not just in the family, but in the society‘s makeup and the change that is going to be affected by this society—has she been underrated to this point? 

LACEWELL:  I definitely think Grammies are underrated.  Again, as a working parent who really relies on my mom to make sure those bath times are on time so I can dress up in a gorgeous dress and go out and dance for the inauguration.  Hi, Parker.  That‘s my seven-year-old at home.  There‘s no doubt that she‘s underrated. 

But part of what Grammies do is they purposely underrate themselves in order to let their daughters and their granddaughters shine.  I think definitely the two Obamas that will steal the show here are going to be these girls.  We are all rooting for them to have a nice, easy transition through adolescence and those teenage years. 

OLBERMANN:  And to that point, this obviously an occasion that‘s so public, we can comment on the Obama daughters without invading any privacy.  Those two girls do seem to be easing into all of this with as much grace as their parents.  How do we find the line of when it‘s appropriate and when it‘s not with them? 

LACEWELL:  Well, I think we have to follow the lead of the parents and we have to respect the lead of the parents on this.  They are certainly going to make their daughters and apparently their potential dog available to us for enjoying sort of family moments, holidays.  But we‘ve got to let these girls transition academically, personally, as much as possible in a normal way. 

And how can you be normal as the first family?  And yet, we have to let them, you know, fail and make mistakes, because that‘s part of what it means to learn as young people. 

OLBERMANN:  As a parent, as a professor, as someone with an interest in this, can you tell whether our assumption that they are enjoying this is correct?  Is it understated?  It sure seems like every time we have seen the girls in public, they do seem to enjoy it.  It‘s not—it‘s not mommy and daddy made us do this. 

LACEWELL:  No, they seem to be having a good time.  And I think the key is to ask are they behaving like children or are they behaving like little soldiers?  They are really behaving like age-appropriate girls.  They are sitting up there during inauguration taking photos.  They are kind of cutting up, giving high-fives.  If you remember in Denver, they ran up and kissed the screen when daddy‘s face appeared. 

As long as we see them behaving in age-appropriate ways, every once in a while even getting restless, then I think we can know they are in fact having a good time.  Of course, it‘s hard to share your parents with the whole world in this way. 

OLBERMANN:  There are, of course, some compensations.  They are, as we understand it, at home, home being the White House, with the children of other White House staff who are attending the various balls, watching, among other movies tonight—what was it, “High School Musical Three,” which sounds like a very kid thing to be doing at the moment, while the adults are out of the way. 

The power of this precedent as a whole, the first African-American family in the White House; it‘s an iconic image obviously.  But are we thinking of it only as an immediate headline, as a look at this has all changed, and not judging yet correctly the long-term impact of seeing this every day, not just today, not just tomorrow, but every day the Obama family is in that house, and what that means to people‘s psyches and understanding of our society? 

LACEWELL:  Sure.  I think it does two things.  I think for African-Americans and for many marginal families in general, those that are same-sex loving families, those that are interracial families, just seeing a family that is not the complete norm of white middle class America is exciting.  It is affirming to our lives. 

On the other hand, I think there‘s a peace here that is good for the normative family, that they get a chance to really experience African-American life and culture through the people of the Obamas.  It happened a little bit today in the benediction, when he read James Weldon Johnson‘s poem, which is the African-American National Anthem. 

This is an opportunity for us to all be one family.

OLBERMANN:  Professor, give me a second.  I want to listen to the president once again at the inaugural ball. 

OBAMA:  Yes, we can.  Yes, we will, as long as all of us are working together.  That‘s what America is about.  That‘s what this campaign‘s been about.  That‘s what this administration will be about.  I‘m grateful to all of you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

OLBERMANN:  The president, again, at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball, as he said, along with the one for the military personnel, the most important ones of the evening.  We have been pleased to be joined, again, by Melissa Lacewell Harris of Princeton University, who now can go put that great dress to great purpose. 

LACEWELL:  Absolutely. 

OLBERMANN:  Have a good time.  Thanks, kindly. 

LACEWELL:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  The flags were free.  The use of the flags free in the other sense of the word.  Like some giant creature in motion, thousands upon thousands waved as history was created in front of your eyes.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Your courage, your integrity—

OLBERMANN:  -- speaks at the Commander in Chief Ball. 

BIDEN:  -- literally is an inspiration to Jill and me and I think to all Americans.  You know, I came to the United States Senate as a kid when I was 29 years old.  And what happened—I‘m no longer 29.  When you see my wife, you will think she is. 

Well, ladies and gentlemen—ladies and gentlemen, my admiration from the day I arrived here has literally, not figuratively, grown every single year that I have been in Washington, D.C. as a United States senator and now as vice president. 

OLBERMANN:  The vice president at the commander in chief ball.  And after a presidency marked by fear that exploited American patriotism to stifle American dissent, today, the black son of an atheist socialist African man, raised by a single mother, took the highest office in this land in a bloodless peaceful transfer of power, saluting both the faithful and the irreligious alike and demonstrating for all the world to see that after years of militaristic rhetoric to the contrary, that this is what the march of freedom and the spread of democracy truly looks like. 

This after eight years of nightmare, nightmare vision of a president‘s role, of America‘s very nature, after centuries of the twin nightmares of slavery and racial animus, this today was in almost any image you chose the clearest embodiment perhaps in our history of the American dream and its true potential finally fully realized. 

Some of what we saw today will become over the years iconic to generations of school children yet unborn, from Kansas to, say, Kenya.  The inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, Democrat, American of Illinois. 


OLBERMANN:  The 44th president of the United States is on his way to the White House for coffee with the 43rd president of the United States.  It is certain that the rush hour that he and others are encountering today in Washington has never looked like this before.  It is likely that the swearing in of an American president has never looked like this before.  Some sort of cross between Woodstock and a religious pilgrimage. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Look at the sea.  They are all dancing.  Look it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This building here that was built by slaves is now going to be occupied by an African-American.  It is new blood. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Look around you.  It‘s just amazing.  We are proud of our country.  We are proud of our president. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And I decided that I needed one of my grandparents and my parents would be in name and spirit, even though they didn‘t make it to see this day.  Their youngest grand baby did.   

OLBERMANN:  Here we are.  Here‘s that moment. 


OLBERMANN:  And the transfer of power begins. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Who do you think is more relieved getting in that car?  I‘ll bet Bush is. 

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.  Wow.  Take a look at the shot on the left.  The house is being refitted for the new tenants. 

MATTHEWS:  Get on the bus, Gus. 


OLBERMANN:  It is a role call of American public service. 

Not doing the wave.  That is simply applause, visible in mass form. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Sasha and Malia Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ladies and gentlemen, the president-elect of the United States, Barack H. Obama!

RICK WARREN, SADDLEBACK CHURCH:  We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequalled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership.  And we know today that Dr. King and a great crowd of witnesses are shouting in heaven. 


BIDEN:  And I will well and faithfully discharge. 

STEVEN BREYER, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE:  The duties of the office on which I‘m about to enter. 

BIDEN:  The duties of the office upon which I‘m about to enter. 

BREYER:  So help me god. 

BIDEN:  So help me god. 

Thank you, Mr. Justice. 

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT:  And will to the best of my ability—

OBAMA:  And will to the best of my ability—

ROBERTS:  Preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States. 

OBAMA:  Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. 

ROBERTS:  So help you god? 

OBAMA:  So help me god. 

ROBERTS:  Congratulations, Mr. President. 

OBAMA:  In the year of America‘s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river.  The capital was abandoned.  The enemy was advancing.  The snow was stained with blood. 

In a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the

father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: ‘let it be

told to a future world that the in the depth of winter, when nothing but

hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country alarmed at one

common danger came forth to meet it.‘ 

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words.  With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents and endure what storms may come. 

Let it be said by our children‘s children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter.  And with eyes fixed on the horizon and God‘s grace upon us, we carried forward that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations. 

Thank you.  God bless you and god bless the United States of America. 

OLBERMANN:  This is the final transfer into power.  And, obviously, full of jokes to the last here, the former president and the wave good-bye. 

MADDOW:  And George W. Bush leaving Washington, D.C.

OLBERMANN:  They are approaching the location of Al Roker now.  Leap the fence now. 

AL ROKER, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  Mr. President, Mr. President, come on, say hello!  Come on!  Come on!  Yes.  It‘s warm.  It‘s warm.  Thank you!  He told me it‘s warm!  It‘s warm.

OLBERMANN:  And the president of the United States continuing the theme of confounding us tells the weatherman from the today show, when it‘s 15 degrees out, it‘s warm. 


OLBERMANN:  And there is yet more history to be made and it will be done in tuxedos.  I will be back with Rachel at 10:00 Eastern, along with Chris Matthews and Eugene Robinson for the night full of inaugural balls.  That is COUNTDOWN for this the 2,082nd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  What, you thought that was going away?  Are the troops home yet?



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