Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Now it's time to get to work

I'm not trapped in a St. Elsewhere-style dream sequence after all.

Four years after signing on for another dose of overprivileged, ill-equipped, tunnel-vision leadership from George W. Bush, my country has inaugurated a worldly, intelligent, charismatic man from a modest background as its 44th president. It was a stunning about-face. It seemed too sudden, too drastic of a shift to be true. But it was real. I saw it with my own two eyes.

Further, that worldly, intelligent, charismatic president happens to be a black man named Barack Obama, which, as you may have heard more than once in the last few days, is kinda sorta a very big deal given our nation's history. As strongly as I believe that American history is a steady progression toward a more accepting and inclusive society, I hardly would have believed even 10 years ago that I'd live to see what happened Tuesday.

Over the last year, the Obama campaign and inauguration accomplished something I hadn't thought possible before: It melted away the cynicism that had become my default approach to politics. For the first time in my life, we have a president who I supported not because I saw him as more palatable than the alternative but because I actually thought he was the right person for the job. For the first time in my life, we have a president who has convinced me that politics can be about more than senseless division and false promises. For the first time in my life, we have a president who makes me believe that politics can be the American people's friend and not our enemy.

But now that Tuesday has become Wednesday, the glamour of ebullient crowds and inaugural balls has begun to fade into the mundane processes of governance. When the country wakes up in a few hours, we'll find that challenging times threaten to swallow Obama's presidency whole before it even gets off the launch pad. It'd be easy to look at what Obama has inherited -- two costly wars, a cratering economy, and deeply flawed education and health care systems, just to pull a few items off the list -- and throw your hands up in disgust, frustration, and hopelessness.

With great challenge, though, comes great opportunity -- opportunity to heal America's wounded international reputation, opportunity to restore America's economy to a sound footing that gives everyone the chance to get ahead, opportunity to come together to build a stronger America where everyone is welcome regardless of surface differences like race or religion.

Our nation's greatest presidents -- Washington, Lincoln, FDR -- have been the ones who took over amid great crises and rallied Americans to work hard for a common cause and a brighter tomorrow. There's no guarantee that Obama will have what it takes to join that list. But there's no question that he assumes our nation's highest office at a time when our crises are of the breadth and depth that gave rise to the great presidents of our past.

For all our sakes, may God help Obama live up to their legacies.