As millions flock into the Beltway, the eyes of the world also turn to the District of Columbia, and that is rightfully so. On Tuesday, January 20th, when Barack Obama takes the oath of office, he becomes the 44th person to hold the title of President of the United States of America. In truth, no one can deny how monumental that moment will be: Mr. Obama will be the first bi-racial American to become President, and that only, after so many generations of struggle, has energized an untold number of people not just in America but around the world. Therefore, as the words of his inaugural address meet the frigid air outside of the U.S. Capitol, and as they fall upon the hordes gathered on the National Mall, the rest of the entire world, including its cynics, are likely to be listening closely to what this new leader of the free world has to say.
This is an exciting moment for me, to be honest, and I thank God that I am able to witness it. When I first heard Barack Obama speak, in 2004, I remember saying aloud, “That guy is going to be President.” Of course, I neither knew that for certain, nor did I ever think that I would align myself with much of his political philosophy, what with me being a Republican and all. Nevertheless, this is where we are, and I am happier than Patches with a fresh bag of catnip, especially when I realize just how transformative this presidency will be in the context of the full story of our times.
Do I say that because Barack Obama and I happen to share a distinction of skin color? Well, of course not. It would certainly be trite and unfortunate if that was the case, alone. Luckily, if you have followed this blog much, or if you know me personally, then you know that I have been a “charter subscriber” to the change that Mr. Obama has come to personify. Ever since Joe Boudreaux loaned me an audio copy of the Audacity of Hope, which I dutifully bought for myself and loaned to others, I have believed that this man—and this only man—more than the even idea of this very incredible moment, stands to really change a whole lot about who we are.
Okay, I said it, and no, that is not hyperbole.
Only a few presidential figures were ever so admired that the sheer force of their personalities could beckon wholesale changes in the collective mindset of the denizens. Some of them presided during periods of war and others during economic crises. While the prevailing challenges varied with the times, the loud entreaties have been the same from these men. They have called upon Americans to look inside of themselves, to rediscover their inherent sense of ingenuity, and to commit those talents to the betterment of the country. At present, Mr. Obama commands the same high levels of public favor, and in order to combat the challenges of our own time, he will have to make the same type of passionate calls for resilience, sacrifice, and service from the American people over many months to come. More importantly, during all of this, should we elect to heed these calls, then his presidency will profoundly shift three paradigms in our country—all of which, I am gravely excited to see changed.
The first paradigm deals with foreign policy and our standing in the world. Barack Obama will be our first post-9/11 president, and he inherits a foreign policy that has left much of the world stunned and dismayed. Mr. Obama is unlikely to carry forward many of the policies spawned over the eight years of our Bush/neo-conservative winter, during which cowboy unilateralism put us on the path to war with so many and at odds with, um, everyone else. Rather, we can expect this President to act more collaboratively, seeking the support and assistance of our real allies in our times of need, and we can expect him to draw to a close the war in Iraq, as well as other ill-conceived (and unlawful) elements of our war on terror. This paradigm shift will also not put us above working out difference with our perceived foes; there will be a push for diplomacy rather than a retreat to the arsenals for war. That’s because an Obama presidency will intelligently place a high premium on life, and this, in itself, is a genuine departure from our ways.
Secondly, Barack Obama is the first President of a time that I am calling our period of New Realism. Ours has become a country drowning in its indebtedness, from the trillions owed by our government to the tens of thousands owed by each household. Now those lazy days of loose credit are winding to an abrupt conclusion with painful consequences. This financial fiasco did not just begin; in fact, we can look back decades to find its roots. But regardless of where the blame rests, or how we progressed to this point, one fact is immutably clear: the U.S. economy faces severe troubles, as our financial system grinds to a halt, and as businesses collapse in the absence of capital and under the weight of vanishing markets for their goods. So difficult is this situation that the majority of Americans openly admit being fearful for their future. This means the Obama presidency has to be one of most honest messengers of our time. We can expect Mr. Obama to espouse the tenets of New Realism, more specifically during his State of the Union Address and onward: that our country is nearly broke; that the age of greed and decadence are over; that America needs a big dose of Keynesian economics; and that we have to be patient, strong and charitable. Mr. Obama can also be expected to admit to the American people that there are no quick-fixes here; the realistic fact is, since this problem did not develop overnight, we cannot expect its full resolution to come so quickly. This era of New Realism is certain to break from the jawboning of the last eight years—and, man, isn’t it overdue!
And the last paradigm to see a seismic shift will be in the African-American community, particularly now that Mr. Obama and his wife have been crowned its first post-Civil Rights-era leaders. (With that fact in mind, perhaps it was only fitting that the Inauguration fell one day after MLK Day. That way, we as a people could pay homage to our past on one day, and then look spritely into our future on the next.) As very accomplished individuals, the Obama couple epitomizes the victory of a hard-fought battle for equality in this country, and their existence speaks volumes about the victory. What’s more, their ascension tells us a great deal about the role of family and the place for virtuous qualities like aspirations, determination, and sacrifice in one’s personal journey. To be sure, this comes in a time when many still cling to old insecurities, and denounce studious children or accomplished peers as “acting white”. Nevertheless, I expect the Obama family to have some impact, if only inadvertently, on the way Black America formulates these discussions in the future. No longer can many blacks easily say that we are oppressed by systemic failures; no longer should many so often look beyond of themselves for the faults of their own inadequacies. Barack and Michelle Obama demonstrate, in the most public light, that self-worth and personal responsibility trump all else, and that true success is attainable by anyone willing to face the challenges to reach it. From that fact, the paradigm will shift by the force of a new and honest dialogue, one capable of producing a spiritual revival in a community that helps to shape the social fabric of this country…God knows that this, for me, cannot come fast enough.
I proudly look forward to the moment when I can see Barack Obama sworn in as the new President of the United States of America, but I have my own reasons for being so excited about this historic moment. I believe that, even beyond the bills that he will signs into law, or the policies that he enacts, Mr. Obama will have the capacity to really effect change, by restoring our standing in the world, by simply encouraging Americans to think differently about their finances, and by challenging blacks to assume more individual accountability for their futures. Of course, these three things won’t save the world—but they can have positive, long-term benefits for a nation on the mend. To me, that is change we all can fully believe in.