Dick Harpootlian, the head of the South Carolina Democratic Party, had something he wanted to share with President Barack Obama at the White House just before the president’s inauguration Monday to a second term.
Harpootlian, who in April 2007 had been among the first prominent Democrats to endorse Obama’s maiden presidential run, was with Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and 150 other party leaders at a brunch in the White House East Room.
“Your first four years were great,” Harpootlian told Obama.
“The next four years are going to be better,” the president responded.
Harpootlian was planning to cap off a whirlwind five days of VIP receptions and ceremonies Monday night by going with his wife, Jamie, to the two official presidential inaugural balls attended by the Obamas, followed by a scheduled meeting Tuesday morning of the Democratic National Committee.
“It’s been one hell of a celebration,” Harpootlian said Monday. “Seeing President Obama in the celebratory week is much different than four years ago. I see a confident president who is committed to moving his agenda and is not going to let anyone stand in his way.”
Thousands of other South Carolinians – from House of Representatives Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn and South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal to lawyers, lobbyists, legislators, Capitol Hill aides, Target cashiers and university students – celebrated an inauguration that some said was more significant than Obama’s first one in January 2009.
“The first one, people could call it an anomaly,” Clyburn said. “Not the second time, after he got re-elected with a 5 million-vote cushion. That validates the president.”
Many of the Palmetto State natives attended the South Carolina State Society Presidential Inaugural Ball on Sunday night, then were on the National Mall on Monday for Obama’s ceremonial swearing-in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol.
A number of the celebrants also made a pilgrimage to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which opened in August 2011. It’s the first memorial on the Mall dedicated to a non-president and to an African-American.
Tyrone Dash, a mathematics professor at The Citadel military academy in Charleston, S.C., said Obama’s second inauguration had special significance to him because it fell on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday to celebrate the slain civil rights leader’s birthday.
“My family was very active in the civil rights movement,” Dash said. “This is the culmination of receiving a reward for their efforts. I just needed to be here to celebrate Barack Obama being president.”
In Columbia, S.C., Gov. Nikki Haley called for a cessation of partisan politics, at least for one day.
“The inauguration of a president, whether for a first or second term, is a time for national unity,” Haley said. “Political differences should be put aside today, and all Americans should honor President Barack Obama and pray for his success in meeting the challenges that our nation faces.”
More than 2,200 Democrats and Republicans, most with Palmetto State ties, had partied well past midnight Sunday in a spectacular setting among stuffed animals of the jungle and giant dinosaur fossils at the state ball in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on Constitution Avenue.
Among the ball guests who drank champagne and danced to the hard-driving tunes of The Voltage Brothers out of Atlanta were Clyburn and his daughter Mignon, who sits on the Federal Communications Commission, Harpootlian, Toal, former DNC Chairman Don Fowler and former South Carolina Govs. Jim Hodges and Dick Riley.
Celebrants at the ball and other receptions over the weekend also included U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs, South Carolina Circuit Judge Clifton Newman, Summary Court Judge Stephanie Pasley, South Carolina House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford of Columbia and Steven Beckham, the University of South Carolina’s top federal lobbyist.
For Columbia-born Albert Thompson, Obama’s inauguration brought a long family saga full circle.
Thompson’s father and grandmother taught decades ago at black segregated schools in Columbia.
His father, Albert Nelson Thompson, was a fourth-grade teacher at Booker T. Washington Heights Elementary School in 1948 when he filed and won a federal lawsuit demanding that black schoolteachers get paid as much as their counterparts at white schools.
Albert Thompson eventually became a psychology professor at Texas Southern University. His son is a chemistry professor at Spelman College in Atlanta.
“As a kid, I asked my mother if there would ever be a black president,” the younger Thompson said Sunday near midnight at the South Carolina ball. “She said there would be. It happened sooner than I thought.”