Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Remember This Day

I can't let this day end without writing something about it.

Today was a historic day.

Not solely because our first black president took office, although that is a historic accomplishment.

Not solely because we have now executed forty-four consecutive transfers of power without violence and without an outgoing leader trying to change the rules to hold onto his position, although in the history of nations that is an accomplishment without equal.

I think today is historic because, for the first time in my adult life, the new president doesn't seem like Just Another President.

That seems like a terrible thing to say, and something I couldn't even have conceived until very recently. After all, how could there be anything ordinary about the President of the United States? But President Obama has distinguished himself from his predecessors in a way I would not have thought possible until I saw it:

He has inspired millions in this country to feel like we are part of the solution to our own problems.

Think about that for a moment.

I was too young to vote for George Bush, but I remember him as a good man who ran and won because the country wanted more Reagan, and he was the next guy. When it turned out he wasn't Reagan after all, we elected somebody else.

I voted for Bill Clinton twice. Liberals love to lionize him, but really, he ran because he wanted to be president. He had an agenda, but no purpose other than--he wanted to be president. We gave him his two terms and were not entirely unhappy to see him go.

I voted for George W. Bush twice, too. I think we elected him (the first time) because we figured he would be adequate to the job in a calm time, when it didn't seem like we really needed a leader. The second time, we elected him because he was the guy bailing the boat, and the other guy didn't seem to have any new ideas except I'm not that guy. So we gave him his second term and many of us were not at all unhappy to see him go.

They had their moments, but for the most part each of them was Just Another President. Ho hum. And most of us were content to sit back and let them lead, to stand ready if the call came but otherwise knuckle down and take care of our own.

Now along comes this new guy, and a lot of us see him and sit up and take notice. We look at him and say wow, there's something different about this guy. He's--well, I'm not exactly sure what it is, but it's different. I think I like it.

For the record, I wasn't one of the folks who sat up and said that. Not until election night. Not until I'd already voted for John McCain--another good man who probably would have been adequate to the job. But Just Another President.

But that night I saw two speeches that moved me. One was a gracious concession from a good and honorable man to his victorious opponent, wishing him the best and offering his service to the incoming president. The other was an address from a true orator, in which he revealed to me for the first time that whatever he is, he is not Just Another President. And I began to realize things could be better, that Just Another President isn't the most we can expect, after all. That here is a guy who doesn't just have an agenda; he has a Purpose.

And today, he took the Oath of Office and he stood up and he told me: I am here to work. But I can't fix everything on my own. Get up off your ass and stop waiting to be led, and together we'll make something different happen.

He told me I can be part of the solution to my own problems, and to my country's. That my civic responsibility hadn't ended on election day.

That part of my civic responsibility is making sure my kids understand, making sure they know what it is to be American, that their voices are important even between elections.

That part of it is teaching my scouts how to be men, and how to do important things men, and dads, need to know.

That part of it is making sure the student from Mexico who lives with us has what she needs to succeed, so she can graduate and take her turn making America better, or Mexico better, or both. Or maybe even more than that.

That part of it is giving blood, something I haven't done in a while, so someone might live who otherwise might not.

That part of it is using my words to help others understand how I feel, so maybe they can reflect on how they feel.

In a way, the hype surrounding this election and inauguration has an element of tragedy to it. Because no man can possibly do everything our country seems to expect of President Obama.

But just maybe, if we all work together and do our part, we can make something different happen. Maybe, by doing what we can, we really can make things better.

I'm rolling up my sleeves. Let's get to work, Mr. President.


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