I Publius: New game of follow the leader

We have come a long way together as we watch a second great man from Illinois prepare to become president of the United States. He will have a great deal to do in his inaugural address. He will have to provide hope and comfort to a country in dire need of both and at the same time, he must help us all to move ahead.

We all know that Abe Lincoln was a superb wordsmith. His speeches are among the most important ever heard in this country. Now it is up to Barack Obama who, like Lincoln, is coolness under fire personified. He is faced with extraordinary problems that include one of the worst financial crises in the history of this country, to say nothing of a foreign policy that has gained us contempt from the rest of the world and landed us right up there on the all-time list of major foul-ups.

In a very short time, the president-elect has pulled together a first-rate cabinet. He has walked a fine line between setting new policy and not treading on the prerogatives of the outgoing president. He has made it clear that the tent is large and everyone is welcome. He insists that we are going forward and not looking back, and he has already angered some in his own winning electoral coalition, the people who are furious that the opening invocation will be delivered by a preacher with anti-gay rights positions. He won’t spend his precious time punishing George Bush for his horrible mistakes. He wants to build coalitions and put this country back to work. He has eaten lunch with some of the most important conservative writers in the country — serious intellectuals like George Will and David Brooks.

Don’t get me wrong — I certainly believe that George Bush is literally getting away with murder. We are talking Abu Ghraib; Guantanamo; torture; a war based on a lie; and the attempted decimation of the United States Constitution, our civil rights and liberties. Unlike the Bush-Cheney gang who saw conflict as the right path, the brilliant Harvard-trained Obama has taken the reconciliation path and he is right to do so. Behind him is the wisdom of Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and Lincoln. It costs him nothing to have lunch with some conservative writers with immense media power or to invite a speech from an anti-gay rights minister. I’d bet the ranch that his own speech makes it clear that he rejects the thinking of Pastor Rick Warren but Warren will, on some level, always be in Obama’s debt. Keep building bridges; keep building coalitions; keep remembering how to get things done.

In the end, our politics will never again be the same. With this one election, we have brought hope back to the American people. We are proud of ourselves. We have finally put a major stake through the heart of racism in this country. We haven’t killed it, but we have done something so special that our hearts are singing. Of course, we wish that could be enough but the Bush legacy of economic ruin has been visited upon us all. A few months ago, many of us knew about the bad news but couldn’t actually put a face on it. Now it touches us all. People we love are out of work. Restaurants are finding fewer patrons. Car dealerships are out of business. Our biggest employers are having trouble and laying people off. Our friends struggle to pay for heating oil and put food on the table.

So there will be a lot riding on him when Barack Obama rises to take the oath and deliver his inaugural address. I am so proud of the man that I could bust. He is amazingly, stunningly smart and, unless I am really off-base, he is a good person. He will need a lot of help. For those who want to go the way of getting even and punishing their enemies, forget about it. History will take care of George Bush. Let’s follow the leader here. Let’s get every American some health care. Let’s give peace a chance. Let us rejoice in what we have done as a country and celebrate the inauguration of a truly great man. I am proud of all of us.

Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/17/09

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