Today, January 20, 2009, is a day that for many is momentous. Barack Obama will stand in front of the Capitol, and take the oath of office becoming the 44th President. And as such, he will become the first non-caucasian president, the first African American leader of the free world, which will have profound political and social impact on this country and around the world. Record number of people are expected to watch Mr. Obama take the Oath of Office on the Capitol mall, which should be a stirring and emotional moment for many.
Historically, it is a momentous achievement. It has been only 45 years (or a little more than a generation or two) since the Civil Rights Act was passed truly guaranteeing voting rights, equal employment, and finally outlawed segregation. Many of our citizens, Black and White, have long lasting memories of the time before that. And the inauguration will be held almost 146 years to the day that Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Maybe long ago by personal measures, but it was only a blink of an eye in historic measures when Lincoln declared,
…I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
I for one did not support the election of Mr. Obama. That said, even for me this moment is one to behold. Unlike many minorities, I have always believed in my heart that I would see a member of a racial minority elected president; I only wish it were a Republican! I never had a doubt in my mind that this would happen in my lifetime, unlike many in our society and in the mainstream media who proclaimed they never believed it would happen. Maybe it is a generational difference; I think most in my generation are proud, but not surprised, that we elected an African American President. I think there is also a divide among African Americans and the rest of American society. My African American friends still believe Obama’s election is surreal, that it can’t be happening. This is even more so with older African Americans, especially those that lived through the civil rights era of the 1960s. But ultimately, most people I know, even most Republicans who don’t support Mr. Obama’s policies, are proud that we were able to elect an African American to lead us.
As for competence, Mr. Obama may have run the most perfect presidential campaign in history. His oratory was moving. And his approval ratings right now are through the stratosphere. However, now comes the hard part. The reason for Obama’s high approval ratings is based in nothing more tangible than hope; hope that he will be a less partisan figure than Bush and Clinton, that he will be able to navigate the dangerous and difficult waters ahead better than his predecessors. Mr. Obama’s rhetoric has been high minded, glorious…and unspecific. Now, specificity will be his job. No more flying in the clouds. The dirty details is what makes or breaks a presidency.
First comes the economy. The new President will certainly get most, if not all, of his wishes as far as the next bailout, which will cost in the range of $800-900 billion. Once this passes, this becomes the Obama Economy, and he takes all the risks and benefits that come with claiming the leadership mantle. Will a bailout that mainly increases government expenditure, with huge deficit spending, really increase the Gross Domestic Product, and decrease unemployment? Only time will tell. But ultimately, Mr. Obama’s budgets will add more to the national debt in 1 year than Ronald Reagan added during his two terms in office.
The war in Iraq, despite what our liberal friends say, has been virtually won; Peter Beinart wrote an excellent editorial on the subject on Sunday. Sure, there are problems there; there always will be problems there. It is not our job to solve all of Iraq’s problems. It is to give a fledgling democracy a chance. And we have done that. Next is Afghanistan, where President Bush, current and future Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and General David Petraeus have already started a mini-surge. Afghanistan will be a thorn in Mr. Obama’s side through out his presidency. This is not a short term ordeal, and hopefully the new president will see it as such.
Foreign policy will be an enormous problem. Mr. Obama has set the bar so amazingly high, it will be almost impossible to meet those goals. First comes Israel and Palestine; a victory would be getting the Isrealie-Palestinian situation under control. But the Obama administration is fooling itself if they believe any peace deal is anywhere in sight. Iran will be a larger problem. Will Mr. Obama be strong enough to handle an Iranian government that has no inclination or desire to give up their nuclear program? And what if Iran moves forward with nuclear weaponization? What will we do then? And of course, the future Mr. Obama sees is a world wide global warming agreement, the likes of Kyoto, which will be incredibly hard to achieve with rising powers like India and China standing in the way.
Homeland security ultimately is the most important job of an American president. But Mr. Obama has put barriers in his own way. Guantanamo Bay is promised to be closed; what to do with those terrorists, most who cannot be released, and many who cannot be convicted in a normal U.S. court? Rhetoric is easy; details are hard. How about interrogations? Are we really going to use the Army Field Manual as the guide for C.I.A. interrogators? You may as well pray to Allah for terrorists to give up any information. Will we continue wiretapping, which the intelligence courts have now ruled as constitutional, and which most intelligence experts say is essential? And what will the effect of Leon Panetta be on the C.I.A.?
Don’t get me wrong. Mr. Obama is the American President. He is my president. I wish him no ill; in fact, if he does spectactularly, I will seriously consider voting for him in 4 years. But that does not mean that he should not be criticized. In fact, it is patriotic to criticize anyone and everyone who you disagree with politically. The political dialogue improves the country.
So, on this historic day, I wish Barack and Michelle Obama, and their two lovely daughters, all the congratulations and best wishes in the world. They will need our best wishes for what lies before them. And I hope Americans remember that the political fight is what makes us the greatest democracy in the world. I will fully support Mr. Obama when I agree with him, and fight tooth and nail when I don’t. I don’t think President Obama would want to have it any other way. As my hero, and Barrack Obama’s, Abraham Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley on August 22, 1862,
I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views…I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men, everywhere, could be free.
Note: please note post was updated because of broken video link of the inauguration.