Barack Obama became the nation's 44th president today, gently prompting a nervous Chief Justice John Roberts through the oath of office. Obama's inaugural address had all of the right touches. Using plain, sober language, he described the domestic and international difficulties facing the United States without assigning blame. He promised the restoration of American global prestige, calling it necessary for the prosperity of the world and the country.
Most importantly, Obama defined the political essence of the country as a successful partnership between government and people, driving the point home with constant and rhythmic repetition of the word "we," as in "We the people." Government as described by Barack Obama is something that above all must provide for and protect
for common good. This is the essence of Obama's centrism, which has been widely misunderstood by the left as a cave-in to the right and by the right as a vindication of their philosophy. (If you think I'm making this up, read Chas Krauthammer's weird column of last weekend.)
Obama seeks to do nothing less than widen the political center and move it to the left -- which by that I mean mainstream liberalism. The political discourse of the past 28 years has been so degraded that the rhetorical center of the United States has been moved so far to the right that John McCain is seen as a moderate. Barack Obama aims to bring the country as a whole along, to pressure elected officials into supporting his agenda by appealing to the country at large. I've never believed that he means to seriously reach out to the Jim DeMints of the Senate, the hard right, obstructionist reactionaries who care about ideology first and country second. Rather, he wants to disarm them, to isolate them as extremists do-nothings whose only interest is blocking an agenda that the country as a whole supports. If Obama can close the breach that has developed between the government and the people, his presidency will be significant.
He has a great chance of pulling it off, too. Despite the problems he and the country face, Barack Obama begins his presidency today in as enviable as position politically as any president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. After routing John McCain and providing the coattails for a substantial Democratic Congressional majority, Obama conducted a masterful transition that has left the country solidly behind him. Moreover, polling indicates that the electorate grasps that the nature of the economic problems is such that Obama and the Democrats will need time to turn things around.
Even more to the good, the loyal opposition is in a disarray comparable to the Democrats of 1952 and the Republicans of 1932, or, arguably, the 1856 Whigs. In addition to the 59 Senate Democrats, eight Republican senators [Burr (NC), Collins (ME), Ensign (NV), Grassley (IA), Lugar (IN), Snowe (ME), Spector (PA), Voinovich (OH)] come from states carried by Obama. If there's one thing a United States senator values above all, it's reelection: With the exception of Voinovich -- who is retiring -- each of these senators is susceptible to public pressure.
Barack Obama's new politics rolled over John McCain's old world view. Obama has shown through his transition that his commitment to a new form of politics is sincere. He brings to the job a powerful intellect and an impressive demeanor. Most important of all, the people of the United States and the world support him and want him to succeed. He has an excellent chance of doing just that...
Wasn't it great to see so much happiness at the prospect of a new presidency? Take a look The New York Times album of photos taken by people who attended the inauguration...
How about Dick Cheney in the wheel chair? It was appropriate that he went out looking like his spiritual and ethical doppelganger:
The First Line above is from John Kennedy's inaugural address, given on January 20, 1961. New First Line soon!...Leslie Stahl and other talking heads wondered all morning long what former President Bush was thinking about today. This about guy who spent seven minutes reading from a children's book while the 9/11 attacks were underway. What could he have possibly been thinking that would be worth knowing about? If anyone wants to guess, comment away...