Coates: Did you try that? Did you try to go to all of them?
Obama: We went to all of them. And you do a dance at each one.
Obama: No, no, not every state has one, but we went to 10 or 12. And by the time we were done, it was like 1 o’clock, so we had Wynton Marsalis here playing, and people had been hanging out, but by the time we got back Michelle’s feet were all hurting and swollen up, and I was exhausted, and we hung out here probably for half an hour, and went to bed. Now, the second inauguration, we had it a little more figured out. So we did, like, three balls and then got back here and had a DJ and, yeah, Usher and Stevie.
Coates: How late did you go?
Obama: Three-thirty? Four o’clock?
Coates: Was the second one more joyous for you—
Coates: It’s one thing you’re the first black president, but it’s like “Wow, this really—”
Obama: Yeah. I think the way to think about it is the first inauguration is like your wedding in the sense that it is a joyous moment and occasion, but you’re so busy and kind of stressed making sure that Aunt Such-and-Such and Uncle So-and-So and cousins are getting tickets that it ends up going by without you even really knowing what’s happening. The second one you could savor. But partly, as you indicated, for political reasons as well. Because we had gone through four of the toughest years this country has gone through since the ’30s. And to be able to win a majority of the vote the second time indicated that we had worked with a broad cross section of the country and they trusted what we were trying to do. And it wasn’t just a singular feel-good moment; it was an affirmation that people thought we had done a good job.
Coates: I think for those of us—and I certainly threw myself in this camp—I was telling Valerie the other day, the idea of a black president was a joke, in every black stand-up comic routine everywhere—
Obama: Right. A friend of mine gave me Head of State—remember [Chris Rock] and Bernie Mac?—when we were still running. Said, “Man, you got to see Head of State.” [Laughter]
Coates: Yeah, this was like a laugh-fest. But I think one of the things that did distinguish you was the ability to see it and to have the vision that, yes, this could happen, and then to have it again. I’m speaking specifically in terms of race … There were those of us who said, “It’s no way.” And to see it the first and second time must have really reaffirmed a lot of what you thought.
Obama: As I said, the second time, people had seen me work. They had seen me have victories, they had seen me have defeats, they had seen me make mistakes, they had seen me at some high moments but also some low moments. So they knew me, at that point, in the round. I wasn’t just a projection of whatever they hoped for. You know, we always cautioned each other, in the ’08 race, that people were projecting so much onto my campaign—you know, that this would solve every racial problem, or that this indicated that we were beyond race, or that we were going to magically usher in a new era of progressive politics, and that we had vanquished all the backward-looking politics of the past.