Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Over the last few months, every so often I would turn to Noel, apropos of nothing, and say: "Our next president is Barack Obama." And every time it sounded so implausible. A black man with a foreign name; how the heck did this guy get elected? How did the American electorate overcome all the reasons not to vote for him -- and vote for him?

I know the answers. On the one hand, things were so bad, so astoundingly bad, that a black guy with a foreign name was preferable to more of the same. On the other, a singular political voice with the power to inspire came on the scene suddenly and changed the entire equation. And yet despite all the sense that makes, the outcome never ceased to astound me.

Today as I watched the inauguration, letting out involuntary whoops and fist-pumps in my empty living room, I wondered whether this is all truly as extraordinary as it seems. Is it just me, or does the joy surrounding this election, this inauguration, the promise of this presidency seem to emanate not just from one party or one race, but from the country as a whole? Doesn't the celebration appear to be all-encompassing, transcending all the myriad reasons for rejoicing and coalescing in one singularity of hope and triumph? Isn't it like everyone, all at once, sees a new age dawning?

I'm aware that this isn't strictly true. I'm surrounded by people in Arkansas who went the other way, in larger numbers than they did in 2000 or 2004. Yet it seems to me that the emotion isn't just relief that it's over, or resignation that it hopefully won't be too bad, but an active sense of thrust, of movement, of people swinging onto the train as it chugs purposefully toward something new.

Those who drive history forward, the President said, are "the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things." Today I want to be in that number. And let all the people say -- amen.


doafy said...

Last week I heard an interview with people in a VFW hall (or something) in a big McCain area. One guy said that he was opposite Obama in everything, but he really really hopes that in four years, Obama will have done such a great job that he won't be able to wait to vote for him that time around.

I thought that was a beautiful, hopeful sentiment from someone on the other side.

the secret knitter said...

I really hope so, and I hope those in Obama's party won't set unreasonably high expectations for him that are doomed to be disappointments.

I can't remember paying any attention to previous inaugurations, but I was amazed how many wrapped around the TVs at work to watch. I was holed up in my office getting work done, but I couldn't help but be pulled away to peek at today's festivities.

Bri said...

I've never actually watched an inauguration, but yesterday, at VCU, we and most of the rest of campus abandoned classes and on huge jumbo-trons and flat screens everyone watched, out in the cold at the commons or in the conference rooms upstairs. It was amazing. A lot of people who voted for McCain were there and most said they hoped that he might do some good for us and that maybe he could help us. I know there are bound to be those who were angry yesterday, but thankfully (or tragically?), they stayed inside and didn't enjoy the moment.

Danny said...

I think the overwhelming enthusiasm we're seeing around our new president is partly us wanting to pin all our hopes on one peg, and in this respect, I sincerely hope we don't create expectations that a mortal (and his Cabinet of mortals) could never live up to. There's a lot that a good leader can give us, but these woeful times are going to require some active effort and responsibility on the part of everyday citizens. I hope that when the pomp and grandeur settles, Americans realize and accept this.

In another sense, I think what we're seeing is a cathartic relinquishment of cynicism and a newfound willingness to believe in things and people. While we should exercise caution on pinning all of this newfound hope on one man, I do agree it's a neat thing to witness.