'Bye-bye Bush,' we have hope for America now

James Eldredge turned down his invitation to the inauguration.

That was 1989 when the elder George Bush became president of the United States and Eldredge, an accountant in Queens, was recognized for his financial contributions to the Republican cause.

"That's when being a conservative meant a balanced budget and less government,'' he said.

For the past 18 years, he has lived in Hernando County, considered himself a political independent and last year volunteered for the Barack Obama presidential campaign. Tuesday morning, he joined more than 130 others at the Marine Corps League Detachment in Spring Hill to watch the inauguration of Obama as the nation's 44th president.

Eldredge didn't just watch. He took his camera in his right hand, pointed it at the big screen projecting the Web feed and recorded history. To applaud, he knocked his left hand against the wall.

The exuberance in the room was universal. People embraced the change in administrations, the belief that better days lie ahead and the genuine affection and admiration toward Obama, the first African-American president.

The need for hope is understandable here. The 10 percent unemployment rate is the highest in the Tampa Bay area. Food stamp requests in December stood at 18,135, an 88 percent increase over the same time two years ago.

The backbone of the economy, the building industry, has ground to a halt. And two logical safety nets, the state of Florida and Hernando County, are bracing for budget cuts.

"He's going to make mistakes, it's inevitable,'' said Kathy Brown, 67, a former zookeeper at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, ''But it's got to work. It can't not work.''

The racially mixed crowd was mostly retirees, though Micki McCabe, a teacher for the Department of Corrections, came over on her lunch break to watch. What drew her?

"History,'' she said. "I spent 26 years in the military fighting for this; I'm glad to see it through.''

The event even had an international flavor.

Gerry and Jill Ascah live in Toronto but spend two months each winter in Spring Hill. They, too, snapped pictures of the Americans celebrating.

"It's worldwide — the interest in Obama,'' said Gerry Ascah. "It's just a phenomenal thing to watch and a great thing for the world.''

The crowd cheered at the introduction of former President Bill Clinton, applauded loudly for Michelle Obama and exploded the first time the president-elect appeared on camera at 11:38 a.m.

The reaction to the Bushes, both outgoing President Bush and his father? Not as warm.

"Bye-bye Bush'' chortled Robert Alford, sitting next to the laptop that provided the projected images.

They joined Pastor Rick Warren's invocation in Washington, D.C., by reciting the Lord's Prayer and applauded again after the concluding line to "deliver us from evil.''

At the watch party, put on by three Democratic Party clubs, the faithful munched on fried chicken, chicken wraps, potato salad, cole slaw, mixed fruit, yogurt and cupcakes. They drank bottled water bearing red labels proclaiming "Diane Rowden.''

The new president lunched on seafood stew, pheasant and duck, sweet cherry chutney, molasses sweet potatoes and apple cinnamon sponge cake, sweet cream glacé and three California wines.

But before the meal came the big event, the oath of office for Vice President Joe Biden and then Obama. The emotions spilled over.

Seventy-year-old Yvonne Nelson clenched her hand into a fist, shook it and smiled momentarily. Both hands came to her mouth as Obama pledged his faithful service. She raised her hands higher in the universal sign for praise as Obama said he would preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Finally, she wiped tears from her eyes as the new president accepted congratulations and talked of being humble, grateful and mindful of the sacrifices of others.

"I knew I would be emotional,'' Nelson said later. "I grew up a child of the civil rights movement and I never expected to live to see this dream fulfilled.

"I have such hope for America. We're going to be just fine.''

'Bye-bye Bush,' we have hope for America now 01/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 6:50pm]

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