Tone and Challenge in the Obama Era
"Never in our national history has there been so dramatic a coincidence as this simultaneous transfer of power and the complete collapse of a system and of a philosophy." Resonant and relevant words at this moment.
Those words come from March 1933, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt marked the end of an epoch, and The Nation editorialized that his inaugural words "had something of the challenge, the symbolism, and the simplicity of a trumpet blast."
As Barack Obama is sworn in today as America's 44th President, we will hear a new trumpet blast. His election marks a remarkable moment of realism and symbolism in our country's history--- a milestone in America's scarred racial landscape, and a victory for the forces of decency, diversity and tolerance.
Some 2 million people will gather in Washington to celebrate--breaking records today as they did during an astonishing two-year primary season which was infused with soaring hope and fervent anticipation.
Yes, there will be roars filled with hope and excitement marking this extraordinary American story. And at high noon, Obama-- the first Community-Organizer-in-Chief-- takes the oath of office, placing his hand on the Lincoln bible. The man who ran by crafting and mobilizing a new coalition of the young, African-Americans, Latinos, and the once- disenfranchised, will now have the opportunity to reshape our country and reengage a world eager for a post-Bush/Cheney torture era.
Obama will appeal, as President Lincoln did in his first inaugural, to "the better angels of our nature." But in sync with Sunday's blissful concert at the Lincoln Memorial, Obama will also speak eloquently about the value of creating a new community, the value of devising a new concept of responsibility---one that is personal but never lets government off the hook. I suspect one key message will be that of confidence, possibility, even joy, and of recovery-- economic and spiritual. He will remember the shoulders he stands on. He will lay out a kind of anti-politics, venturing--- daringly--- to remake our calcified political tone and culture. He will --as he did during the campaign-- support a more honest politics that can deliver shared prosperity, purpose and sacrifice. And there is my abiding hope that in this new era we will find a transpartisan humanism, allied with effective government, that can actually improve the hard conditions of people's lives.
Our new President speaks with eloquence about solidarity---one that renews and restores the lives of those who work two or three jobs, those who have no health care, those who live without the heat or food or medicine they need. But it will take we, the people, to make sure Barack Obama has the strength to complete the unfiinished work of making America a more perfect union.
We can, yes.
© 2009 The Nation