POLITICS
02/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Power Of Barack Obama's Orbit

As Barack Obama embarked on his Whistle Stop inaugural tour Saturday, it was remarkable to see just how much of the political universe revolves around his every move. The presidency, of course, brings with it a bully pulpit. And Obama is enjoying a historical ride in the popularity polls. But even the orbit around him is carrying in it some special privileges.

Take, for instance, the introductory remarks by the president-elect in which he thanked the four Pennsylvania elected officials who were on hand. Ed Rendell, an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary, was introduced as "the great governor" of the state. Michael Nutter, another Clinton supporter, was introduced as an "outstanding Mayor" of Philadelphia. Arlen Specter, the Republican Senator leading the opposition against Obama's attorney general nominee, was merely introduced.

Bob Casey, one of the few high-profile Democrats in the state to back Obama, however, was given the type of presentation that pols these days dream about: He is, Obama said "as good of a guy, as stand-up a guy, as I have met in all my travels."

It pays to have spent time in Obama's inner circle. (Both Rendell and Nutter campaigned for Obama during the general election, but neither, it seemed, formed the bond that Casey developed during the primary.)

A slightly different case in point would be Lilly Ledbetter. The women's-rights icon has become something of an emblem for the Obama agenda. Legislation bearing her name - which would make it easier for women to challenge pay discrimination in the workplace - is poised to make its way through Congress. And the soon-to-be president will almost certainly sign it the moment it hits his desk.

"It would be wonderful if it was the first bill," Ledbetter told the Huffington Post.

Indeed, in her cause, Ledbetter has a devotee in the incoming president, who not only made her legislation a relatively major election issue but also had Ledbetter herself play a role in the campaign.

As Obama took the stage on Saturday, Ledbetter sat in the front row of the exclusive high-rise section for the 16 specific, "invited guests." Beaming a bit with optimism over the political future, she discussed the special relationship that had developed between her and the president-elect.

"He is a people person and I can tell you one thing, he touched my heart," said Ledbetter. "My husband was buried on December the 15th. He called me on December the 16th to offer his condolences. And you can imagine how much work he had going on at that time and how many plans and how much he had on his mind. And yet he took the time."

Moments later, Obama took to the stage as Ledbetter sat, just feet away on his right. He promised onlookers that he would bring to the White House their voices and concerns and asked in return that they only recommit themselves to the idea that politics can be a force of good.

"While our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not," said the president-elect. "What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that our founders displayed. What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives - from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry - an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels."