Today is January 20, 2009. Inauguration day for Barack Obama, and it can't have come soon enough. It's true that he's been de-facto president since November, 2008, when George W. Bush unofficially, without fanfare or hesitation, turned the job over to him, but today it became official. What a day it's been! They're estimating the crowds at 2 million strong, a sight unseen on any Presidential First Day in modern history.
Obama's speech, so anticipated by us all, was anticlimactic and, at first hearing, a bit of a disappointment. It didn't soar. It didn't sing. The soundbites were few and far between. But, as I think about it now, I realize that what he was going for was resonance. I don't remember the words, but I feel the feeling. What he said was that we're in trouble, we'll need to work hard to get out of it, and if we'll do all that we can do, so will he. He told the world that we were back to being honest and sincere and that they could trust us again. He told those who would want to harm us to back off. But most importantly, he told the Fat Cats that their glory days are over. As I said, resonance.
Oh, the joy in my heart as I wrote those words. Take THAT, you lousy, bloated, insufferable faux-Capitalists. The Sheriff's saddling up and the posse's not far behind. We're off to save the ranches! Widows and orphans, help is on the way!
But lest you think I was totally naive, I also wrote: "I have no grand illusions about a rapid return to health for this country." No, I had no grand illusions, but I did have dreams. I've followed the Great Depression and the effect Roosevelt's brave New Deal had on the country, and I thought I heard the welcome sounds of a Rooseveltian Revolution in Obama's words. Three hundred and sixty five days later, I realize my hearing might have been failing me.
Still, as I've said so many times before, I'm not ready to write Obama off. I'm nervous about a lot of what's been coming out of the White House this past year--I admit it. When I saw Wall Street move in, I chewed my fingers to the nubs. When Rahm Emmanuel became the head whip-cracker, I felt a distinct shiver up my spine. And when Barack Obama stopped talking about labor, even as hundreds of thousands of our workers were losing their jobs every month, I gave up any inclination I might have had to genuflect.
I keep reminding myself that the Good Man took on what amounted to a national nightmare. There were no easy fixes, and nobody pretended there would be. But I would have slept better this past year if only I had been able to see the president as a "people person". Was he ever that? I don't know. We might have made him into our own images, taking much needed comfort in an illusion of our own making. Maybe he is what he is. But what is he? After a full year of hosting him in The People's House we're no closer to knowing where he stands, or, more importantly, where he's going.
And yet. . . And yet. I trust him. I believe he is a Good Man. I believe he understands what it is we need from him, and I believe he is Honest to God trying. Do I believe he's done everything right? Of course not. The proof is in the pudding. We are not that far along. In fact, in some respects, we've fallen farther behind. Our unemployment numbers hover at an unacceptable 10 percent, the bankers are giving out even bigger bonuses even as more and more homes sit empty, the stock market sings "Hallelujah" every time it looks like we're all shout and no clout, and just last night the state of Massachusetts awarded Ted Kennedy's senate seat to a Republican whose election promise was to kill any kind of Health Care Reform bill. As if it isn't enough that we had to say goodbye to the great Lion of the Senate last year. Now we have to watch as health care reform, Teddy's all-consuming passion, breathes its last.
So, as this January day marks the beginning of Barack Obama's second year, I'm remembering the grand enthusiasm of that dawning day one year ago. And, while I admit to the need to dream, I'll be at my listening post, keeping my eyes wide open, pushing--ever pushing--this Good Man to find his backbone and boldly lead where no Democrat has gone before. (Or at least not for a long, long time.)
I think I'll send him this as a reminder. Feel free to do the same:
" On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' And Vanity comes along and asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But Conscience asks the question 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right"
The Rev. Martin Luther King. Address at the Episcopal National Cathedral, Washington D.C., March 31, 1968
(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here.)