Looking back over my 52 years, I must say I cannot recall anything like the giddy euphoria attending today’s inauguration. Perhaps the mood was something like this in January of 1961, but if so I was too young to remember, and anyway I doubt it. Certainly I don’t remember pilgrims descending on Washington in their millions to touch the hem of Jimmy Carter’s garment, or even Ronald Reagan’s.
To be sure, there is much to celebrate here. George Bush deserves sprinklings of credit — for one, we have not been attacked since 9/11, and that is no small thing — but in sum his presidency has been excruciatingly bad, and progressively worse, and on his watch the nation has gone into a very deep ditch indeed. Imagine everything the incoming president is — intellectually sophisticated, curious, articulate, skeptical, well-read, open-minded, and pragmatic — and you will have imagined everything Mr. Bush apparently is not. He brought to the office all the reflectiveness, wisdom and humble grace of a spoiled frat-boy, and governed accordingly. We are all relieved to see him go.
But we know, really, very little about Mr. Obama. It is indeed occasion for enthusiastic pride in our nation’s infinite promise that it has elected its first nonwhite president; that is a watershed in our history, and it is truly uplifting. And Mr. Obama certainly seems to have all the right qualities — a coruscating intellect, calm and steady equanimity, dazzling rhetorical gifts, unexampled popularity both at home and abroad, infectious, optimistic confidence, and a vibrantly youthful virility — to lead effectively, if anyone can, at this time of crisis and national exhaustion. But we have, really, nothing more than these impressions to go on, as his rise has been so sudden that he has left almost no body of work for us to assess.
But we’ve heard all this, of course, for a long time now, and so conspicuous are Mr. Obama’s many gifts, and so elated the national mood on this remarkable day, that I must say I’m feeling rather optimistic myself.
Good luck to you, Mr. Obama, and to this extraordinary, dynamic nation. We are all going to need it, I’m afraid.