When I was five years old, my mother sat me down in front of the television on a cold January Chicago day and made me watch the inauguration of John Kennedy. I remember the power of his speech, although had I not heard it over and over in the years since, I probably would not have remembered its content. But it didn’t matter. What did matter was that it was an historic moments. A defining speech for a step into the unknown for my parents generation. Kennedy talked of space and sputnik; of service and of dreams, of freedom and its challenges. The times have changed, the mission is slightly altered but the essence of Kennedy’s words still resonates.
Today at noon comes another moment in history. I can sense it; I can hear and see it. I can’t remember the last time people waited with such excitement and anticipation for the inauguration of a new president. Personally, I feel like one HG Wells’ Time Machine Eloi, who having lived in the dark for years, finally emerge into the sunlight of a new day. Eight years of arrogant hubris, of “my way or the highway;” of “you’re with us or against us.” Eight years of a president and an administration, that believes that the Constitution of this great country is fungible upon the whim of an imperial presidency by executive fiat; that confuse disagreement and debate with disloyalty and betrayal. That patriotism equals blind acquiescence.
More than year ago, I wrote my prescription for the next US President (although I have to confess, I was not supporting Obama at the time):
“We need a president who will help us regain our standing amongst nations; who will renew our status as the shining light of freedom; who will enable us to lead, not with our might, but with our spirit; not with our power, but by our vision and creativity.” But ”one who carries in his brief case a (practical and implementable) plan to make that vision come alive. A person who will inspire the children and young adults of a new generation to reach beyond themselves; to instill a sense of engagement with government (their government); but, at the same time, have the street smarts and common sense to make things happen. Not by fear; not through manipulation of the facts; not by fraud and lies. But through honesty, transparency, creativity, and the hard work of bi-partisanship.”
Undoubtedly, as Obama takes the Oath of Office this noon, tears will fill my eyes. As they already have each time someone stops by my office to talk about the inauguration festivities that EVERYONE seems to be watching in a truly shared American experience. Make no mistake. When we wake up tomorrow morning and the next, and the next after that, very little of substance will have changed. The economy will still be in free-fall; terrorism will still loom large; the world will remain on the brink of serious and irreparable climate change; we will still be engaged in two wars. This won’t be easy; but for the first time in eight years, I feel we have a fighting chance.