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[Opinion] Obama’s Train of Hope

Posted January. 20, 2009 08:08,   


The inauguration of the U.S. president has been held Jan. 20 since 1937, when Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45) began his second term. Except for George Washington and other presidents whose predecessors died in office, most chief executives were sworn in March 4. The inauguration in January is the result of the ratification of the 21st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which stipulates that the term begins at noon Jan. 20. This was to alleviate fears that the president-elect must wait for more than three months after his or her election. In 1985, Ronald Reagan had to be sworn in at Capitol Hill due to the cold wave. A parade was also canceled.

President-elect Barack Obama left Philadelphia with selected “ordinary Americans” at noon Saturday to attend his inauguration Tuesday. Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his wife joined him at Wilmington, Delaware, and a welcoming ceremony was held in Baltimore. For this reason, the train took six and half hours to get to Washington, 220 kilometers away from Philadelphia. Though the name of the train was the “Obama Express,” its speed was not.

Obama’s train was “The Georgia 300,” a private rail car owned by First Coach Rail Inc. It was first manufactured in the 1930s and renovated. It has a bedroom, dining room and kitchen with a hotel-like interior. George Bush used the train in 1992, Bill Clinton in 1996 and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in his 2004 campaign. Obama also used the train in his campaign trail in April last year.

The route Obama chose to enter Washington in by train is reminiscent of the 1861 inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, Obama’s political role model. It took Lincoln 12 days to reach Washington from Springfield, Illinois, and he took a train from Philadelphia to Washington. In the Lincoln era of no airplanes, a train was the best option. Obama’s train trip to Washington at a time when a private jet has become commonplace must have been intended to invoke the image of Lincoln’s black-white integration. Will Obama’s train become the train of hope that revives the United States?

Editorial Writer Kwon Sun-taek (maypole@donga.com)