Watching the inauguration and activities today, a few things came to mind...
We truly live in a great country. Whether you supported President Obama or not during the election, not only is today an opportunity to celebrate this historic occasion...it is an opportunity to celebrate America. An inauguration reminds me of New Years Eve; as the clock strikes the appropriate hour, the past year is washed away, and the new year is a blank slate, offering us whatever we make of it.
Today affords us the luxury to reflect on where we have been for the past eight years. We have been through horrific struggles: terrorism, mother nature, war, global economic meltdown. Seeing a new President, even if for a moment, we look to the future and have hope that things will get better. It is idealistic and patriotic, but if there ever was a day for such thoughts, this is it.
It may be cliche, but think about what happened today. The most powerful position in the world, and everything that goes with it, was peacefully handed over from one person to another. There will be no war in the streets, there was no coup, there was no military dictator seizing the reigns of power. It is probably amazing to individuals in other countries that such a civil transition can take place. Our free and open elections are the foundation of our democracy, and something we should not take for granted.
The tenor of this inauguration is almost completely opposite of how things were four and eight years ago. 2001 came after a contentious and drawn-out election, while 2005 happened after another close election and people upset that we were still in Iraq. Instead of themes encompassing hope and change, the stories were about deep divisions around the country, protesters along the parade route and a sense of politics as usual.
Even though it may be fabricated by the media (or at a minimum, hyperbole), the attitude and feeling surrounding the new administration is totally positive. Things will certainly change with the day-to-day grind of governing, but for today, anything seems possible. Obama is a symbol of hope and opportunity, not only for African-Americans, but for a country and world eager to put the past behind us.
Giving credit where it is due, I have given Obama his props for past speeches. When he clinched the nomination, and when he accepted the nomination, were two of the best political speeches I have ever heard. My expectations were high for the inaugural, and I will admit that I was a little disappointed.
I guess I should not have been surprised. Instead of the soaring rhetoric from the campaign trail, what we heard was a sobering account of the difficulties we are experiencing and the sacrifices we will be called upon to make. Obama made the point of saying we needed to grow (up), and perhaps this was the speech that showed his maturation from candidate to leader.
There are many people better than I who can provide more insightful analysis of what Obama meant. The slaps at Bush policy and actions, the strong language to those who believe our defenses would somehow be lowered, the recognition that there are more than Christians living in the U.S. - there was a little bit for everyone who was listening for it.
Watching the speech live, I wasn't sure there were many specifics. After going back and reading it, Obama outlined several things he wants us to assist with. "We will..."
- ACT, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth
- BUILD the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together
- RESTORE science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost
- HARNESS the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories
- TRANSFORM our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age
- NOT give them up (ideal of rule and law) for expedience's sake
- BEGIN to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan
- WORK tirelessly (with old friends and former foes) to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet
- NOT APOLOGIZE for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense
- DEFEAT you (those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents
- EXTEND a hand if you (those who cling to power through corruption and deceit) are willing to unclench your fist
There's a lot of stuff tucked in there, policy and projects...lots of projects. And that is going to mean that he needs a lot of money to accomplish these things. One of President Obama's challenges is going to be how to deliver a huge stimulus package (estimates are $1 trillion) a tax-cut for low/middle-income, and yet have money in the budget to pay for infrastructure, alternative energy, bolster Medicare/Medicaid and get money back into our public schools. If he able to accomplish that, it will rival (and should surpass) the results of the 'New Deal'.
Despite the hard work that is before us, this evening is a time for celebration. A celebration by Obama supporters that their candidate won and is now President. A celebration by African-Americans that a barrier was broken and a dream fulfilled. A celebration by Democrats that they are now in power again. A celebration by our country of a new President and this special time in our history. Tomorrow, it is time to get to work and to start the next chapter of our history.