While in Washington DC earlier this month, I found the ultimate Obama souvenir for my Obama-crazed friends. It’s an Obama paper doll that comes in a booklet with different outfits for the paper-thin Obama and Michelle (Yes, both dolls are in their underwear waiting to be draped with paper clothes.). I didn’t stop at one of the many Obama souvenir stands scattered throughout the US capital – including one that is practically on the doorstep of Obama’s new home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – to purchase this bit of memorabilia.
I secured the Obama paper doll booklet at the new Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum located in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center next to Dulles International Airport. The Museum – partly a large converted Boeing hanger – is stuffed primarily with war planes from World War II onwards, including the Enola Gay, the silver-skinned B-29 Superfortress bomber that dropped the first atom bomb on Hiroshima.
The Smithsonian Museum Store might seem an odd place to purchase Obama souvenirs, and especially this one. But expensive, overpriced Obama souvenirs are flying off the shelves and racks of stores and sidewalk stands, and the museum needs funds to underwrite its operational expenses and to acquire new exhibits. The day I was there coffee cups, at least $15-T-shirts, $15-baseball caps, $2-dollar pencils, and other assorted Obama paraphernalia were hot.
Yes, “Change Has Come to America,” as the T-shirts and caps blared. But despite the ever-present souvenir stands shellacking tourists and seasoned voters alike – everyone wants to hold on to a little piece of history it seems – downtown Washington DC two weeks ago was eerily quiet. There were few outward signs of the intensity with which I imagined the staffs of outgoing President George W. Bush and incoming President Barak Obama are managing the transition.
A few tourists – mostly from overseas it seemed – milled around outside the White House gates. I watched as what looked like a moving van – or simply a supply van – back up to the small but stately mansion. Just down State Place across from the White House construction workers were busy constructing the Inaugural Stands – at least that was what was stenciled in blue paint on a plywood board hanging from one of two facing, partially completed structures.
An American flag was hung on the larger stand – apparently for high-ranking onlookers – and a large circular mount obviously meant to hold the presidential seal (to replace the president-elect seal Obama introduced for the first time in US history) dominated the smaller stand across the street adjacent to the White House. Both were nearing completion, almost ready for their short, time-bound, and historic purpose.
Back at Dulles as we began our long trip home to the Philippines, Obama memorabilia again seemed to be the only thing for sale. One retailer had opened a second store in order to meet demand as well as find space for the many different items on hand. My wife acquired a number of other souvenir items, including caps, T-shirts, and badges. After she asked me if I wanted something, I thought about digging out my McCain baseball cap. Too much Obamamania can’t be a good thing I thought to myself.
No doubt the frenzy for Obama and “Change” is the product of the deep gloom that has settled over the US economy. And there is no worse time for financial gloom than Christmas and New Year, and no better time to look forward to a turnaround – whether real or imagined. Although job cuts continue, polls show clear support for the 44th president’s economic stimulus program, despite opposition within his own party and disagreement over raising taxes.
Over the weekend before his inauguration, Obama and his family visited the Lincoln Memorial. Obama has said frequently that he admires Lincoln, who also ran for office on a platform centered on change. And there were in fact profound changes under Lincoln, which threatened to tear the United States apart forever, and deeply divided the nation for many years. Making those changes – and living up to the constitutional mandate that all men are created equal – took great courage, and made Lincoln a deeply unpopular president.
It also made him one of America’s great presidents. As America and the world approaches the second decade of this century, the US needs a great president again. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the Obamamania I observed means one has been elected.