We are, as I post this, 24 hours away from the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. And we are in a blessed period where, aside from noxious pardons, George W. Bush can no longer inflict harm on this country.
Lord knows he’s done plenty already.
Obama’s stratospheric approval ratings are due, in part, to how he has handled himself since his speech in Grant Park on November 4th. But a large part, I think, can be credited to the comparable ineptitude and haplessness of the current President. We’ve spent eight years with a controlling, closed-minded, petty jerk. Someone who is none of those things – even absent anything else – looks pretty great by comparison.
And so, in the last 24 hours of the Bush 43 presidency, I will look forward not only to a President whose opinions and biases are largely mine as well, but one who engages in debate rather than tramples it; who engages his opponents rather than demonize them; who understands the difference between leadership and bullying; whose religious faith is balanced with doubt about his own infallibility; who has, within recent memory, lived as many of us have lived – without vast reserves of wealth, in a city, among citizens at all levels of the economic spectrum; who treats us as the adults we will need to be to get out of our multiple current messes; and understands the vastly greater power of persuasion versus coercion.
(In retrospect, team Bush’s rush to embrace “enhanced interrogation techniques” – torture to normal folk – is entirely consistent with their overall mindset: that people will crumble when faced with superior force. Their blindness to the limits of power, exerted both on individuals and on societies, is at the root of their greatest moral, and policy, failures.)
Lots of news organizations are soliciting from their readers and viewers a “what it means to you” submission about Barack Obama’s inauguration. And while there are so many levels on which one could respond, from the dryly political relief of someone convinced of the wrong-headedness of nearly every policy pushed from the White House over the last eight years, to the deeply emotional reaction of someone like, say, Ann Nixon Cooper, 106 years old, who Obama mentioned in Grant Park in November, and whose life has now encompassed almost unimaginably historic change.
For me, those two extremes are both present, but while meaningful, they aren’t the meaning that I’m hoping will endure.
We have a President-elect who seems committed to being straight with us – not sugarcoating our problems, while at the same time not appearing helpless before them. In short, he has, through his campaign and transition, treated us – all of us – with respect. And he appears hell-bent on continuing to do so come 12:01PM EST tomorrow.
If I have one hope that comes out of the inauguration of Barack Obama, it’s that going forward, we will never accept less than that in our President.