President Barack Obama. Has a nice feeling as it rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
This kind of enthusiasm about the inauguration of a new president is unlike anything in living memory—certainly not mine, at least, and I’ve heard the same thing from folks considerably older. It’s a wonder to behold.
Obama’s name and image are everywhere. He’s on book and magazine covers, he’s on banners hanging over city sidewalks. He’s on soda bottles and baseball caps, coffee mugs and children’s drawings on refrigerators. At the gym yesterday I saw a young woman wearing a T-shirt reading “I (heart) Obama.” Major newspapers have published extra print runs of their Nov. 5 victory editions to sell off at $5 or $10 a pop.
Americans are ready, more than ready, to feel optimistic and idealistic again. After eight years of oppressive despair and decline, the country has (not for the first time in its history) won itself a second chance, a chance to correct the errors of its ways… and proved it deserved that chance, all at the same stroke… by the actions of its citizens at the ballot box.
I can understand why people have flooded into Washington, D.C. to watch the inauguration in person. It’s a chance to bear witness, to be a small part of a pivotal moment in history. I didn’t share the desire to be there today—but that’s probably because I got the chance to be there live in Grant Park on Election Night. I (and a few tens of thousands of others) beat the rush, as it were. It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment in its own right. (And the weather was warmer, too. 😉 )
But I am watching the live video even as I type this.
…and having taken a break to focus my attention on the ceremony, on the bright sunshine and optimistic words in Washington… it’s simply inspiring to see so many people so excited. After all, Obama is just one man. He’s taking on a tremendous burden of responsibility… but he won’t and can’t shoulder it alone. It took all of us to get him there, and it’ll take all of us to make his presidency a success. It doesn’t end today; it only starts.
The New York Times reports that 79% of Americans polled are optimistic about the state of the nation improving under Obama, and (correspondingly) only 22% have a favorable view of the outgoing Bush regime. But really, anyone who honestly thinks Obama could somehow do worse than that dismal regime is overdue to rejoin the reality-based community. Those die-hard 22% are having to come to grips finally with the fact that their time is done, that America is not what they tried to force it into being. It’s more than the land of militaristic nationalism, laissez faire brutality, and religious anti-intellectualism that they imagined. Their fellow citizens have broader imaginations.
Obama embodies just such a broader imagination. He brings a whole new sensibility to the White House. Not only in terms of race, monumental as that is, but in terms of urban and international and generational perspectives that are fresh and different and genuinely unprecedented in the Oval Office.
And all those perspectives will be sorely needed, as he’s taking on a tremendous set of challenges. America faces issues of war and peace, of trade and diplomacy… of Iraq and Afghanistan, of Pakistan and Palestine, of economic crisis and climate change, of housing and employment and infrastructure and sustainable development, of public health and public debt, of civil rights and Constitutional powers and the rule of law, and far, far more. Of peace, justice, and prosperity.
It will take insight and innovation, and it will also take patience. Like anyone starting any new job, he’ll confront a score of important things that all need to be done at once… yet which in reality cannot all be done at once. And in this case, compared to any other job, the stakes are increased by an order of magnitude. He’ll have no choice but to set priorities, and in doing so he will unavoidably leave some people disappointed. No matter how high our expectations, no leader can please everyone, and that’s one thing we shouldn’t expect.
Still, this is not merely a routine political transition. It’s a dramatic and important fresh start. And it’s a call to service for every single one of us who’s celebrating today. It is nothing less than, as Obama said in his extraordinary inaugural address, time to “begin the work of remaking America.”
It’s time to refocus our attention and redouble our efforts toward those greater goals we all share. Peace. Justice. Prosperity.
Let freedom ring.