2009 Inauguration: Preparing for the White House

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Promised Land" by Barack Obama. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What was the 2009 inauguration like? How did Obama prepare for his presidency and life in the White House?

The 2009 inauguration was historic. With it, Barack Obama became the 44th President and the country’s first African-American head of state.

Read more about the 2009 inauguration.

2009 Inauguration: Preparing for the White House

As Barack was assembling his cabinet, Michelle and the girls were preparing to make the full-time transition from Chicago to Washington. Although Michelle was set to become the first lady—and thus, one of the most high-profile people in the world—she remained a mother to Malia and Sasha first.

That meant busying herself with school tours in Washington for the girls, hoping to find a school that would be sensitive to their unique family situation and give her daughters as much privacy and normalcy as possible (she and Barack ultimately settled on Sidwell Friends).

Still, the changes took a toll on Michelle, especially seeing her beloved girls now needing to be escorted everywhere by an armed Secret Service detail.

To help with the transition, Barack and Michelle invited Marian Robinson, Michelle’s mother, to move into the White House full-time to help with the girls. In this role, Marian would become the glue of the family. Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, she had a loving—albeit no-fuss and no-nonsense—demeanor that helped keep Malia and Sasha grounded as they were soon enveloped in a world of luxury and privilege in the White House.

The Household Staff and the Obamas

One highlight of the transition period was meeting the warm and accommodating White House household staff, who would soon become deeply close to the Obama family. The cooks, housekeepers, butlers, and gardeners would take care of the family’s every need. While luxurious, Barack always found it somewhat odd and disconcerting to be waited on hand and foot. Both he and Michelle worried about the girls growing too coddled or privileged by the trappings of the White House.

On a deeper level, it was impossible for Barack not to notice that the household staff was disproportionately Black and Latino, and many of them had served since as far back as the Nixon administration. As Barack came to see, the staff treated his family with an extra level of service and care and took exceptional pride in their work. Later, one Black member of the staff told him that having the Obama family in the White House was a tremendously meaningful event in their lives. Their commitment to Barack and his family was born of a desire to ensure that the Obamas received the care and service that every other First Family had.

Inauguration Day

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, and the nation’s first African-American head of state. The enthusiasm was palpable that day, as a record crowd on the National Mall withstood freezing January temperatures to witness the historic 2009 inauguration. 

After Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office at noon, it was official. In his inaugural address, Obama acknowledged the celebratory mood that much of the nation felt at seeing a Black man ascend to the highest office in the land. But he also knew he needed to tamp down some of the overheated enthusiasm, especially among his core supporters.

The country was in crisis, with a once-in-a-generation economic calamity sapping the household wealth of millions of American families, two overseas wars that had steadily devolved into violent quagmires, and rising global temperatures that threatened the very future of life on the planet.

This was not a time for celebration—it was a time for hard work, sober reality, and determination. The seriousness of the moment was underscored when Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts collapsed during the inaugural festivities. Kennedy had been diagnosed with brain cancer and his health was rapidly deteriorating. Kennedy’s fading health would soon have major political ramifications for Obama’s first-term agenda.

Still, it was impossible for Barack and Michelle not to be caught up in the rapturous mood. They danced through the night at a whirlwind of inaugural balls. To Barack, Michelle looked as lovely, radiant, and poised as she had when they met 20 years before.

2009 Inauguration: Preparing for the White House

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Barack Obama's "A Promised Land" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full A Promised Land summary:

  • How Barack Obama went from relative obscurity to the first Black president
  • What principles guided his political leadership style
  • Why Obama retained an unshakable faith in the potential and promise of America

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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