Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Obama Years: Day 1

"With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

And so concluded the Inaugural Address of President Barack Obama. There hasn't been a more anticipated President in my lifetime, or a more embraced change of power. The 44th President of the United States is already being hailed as a hero, his image is already iconic and his place in history already cemented.

But what does this mean for America?

When I say America, I mean the people that constitute this great country we live in. The people who are (both figuratively and literally) dancing in the streets and singing at the top of their lungs, celebrating the new world ushered in little more than five hours ago. Are they excited to know that when the final piece of confetti falls and the streets of Washington D.C. return to business, they will be prepared to work harder than they've ever worked before to make President Obama's vision a reality? Or are they excited because they believe America has finally elected a President who will assure that they can increase their get from life, without having to increase what they give to life?

CNN interviewed a group of teenage students on the street, blocks from the inaugural parade. They were from a private school in the Bronx, NY, and their trip was funded by the New York Yankees and a local law firm that they had trouble remembering the name of. When the reporter asked them what they were looking forward to most in the coming years, one answered "President Obama's immigration reform." Two just giggled for the camera, saying that they didn't know and weren't sure. The reporter changed the subject, asking what had been the highlight of their trip to Washington D.C. for the inauguration. The responses were "I don't know," "nothing, really," and "singing." With the one exception, nobody said anything remotely intelligent, inspired, or inspiring.

I hope that the next person who criticizes the New York Yankees' off-season spending spree cites that video as evidence. It's unfortunate they couldn't find a more appreciative (or deserving) group of students to send to one of the most celebrated days in our country's recent history.

The historical relevance of President Obama being the first black President of the United States is massive, and deserves to be celebrated. But I can't help but cringe, just a little, when I see shirts that say "America the Black and Beautiful," "United States of Obama" and "Finally, OUR President." Does this mean that he's not my President, too? I hope not. I hope it means that after generations of strife, struggles and injustice, America can finally unite as one people, not a country divided by color, creed and ideological differences. I hope that is the case, because that needs to be the case. We, as a country, do not have another option.

Everyone will have a different highlight from President Obama's inaugural address earlier today. This is mine:

"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."

I remain cautiously optimistic about our country's future with President Obama at the helm. Optimistic, because I agree that it is time for change, and I truly believe he has the vision to help America move in the right direction as a people. For that I am excited, and proud to be an American in these turbulent and uncertain times.

Why the caution? Because President Obama has been elected on the heels of a machine that has taken public-bred propaganda to all new heights. So many people voted for Obama not because they truly knew what he stood for, but rather, because they stood for who he wasn't. Or, even worse, because they glamorized what he was, indifferent to what it was that he stood for. People, justifiably, wanted to believe that their hope could still result in change. But are they prepared to do more than hope and actually work for change?

I hope so.

"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

Hope may have gotten us here, but now the real work begins. Change needs to be more than a slogan on a postcard, trampled underfoot by an inaugural parade. It needs to start at a grass roots level. Change needs to start with us.

We, the people...


Chris McLernon said...

The most repeated tenet of his speeches is accountability. Like the teens in the DC street, let's see if they're prepared to roll up their sleeves and work for their success the way #44 has, and promises to.

James said...

I think Daffy Duck could've been next in line to be president and people would just be happy to have Bush out!

Paul Gargano said...

"It's Awab season... No, Aff-ganee season..."