Here’s the journey, and here’s the moment of arrival, and here we all stand together at the threshold of opportunity. An inauguration. Change has arrived. Barack Obama is our president. This man, so young and untested, so average in height, and slight of build, is telling us – he is showing us by his existence — that America can become the place it has always intended to be.
For a long time I didn’t want to believe it. And for much of the campaign, I dared not to trust it. But there’s no longer any excuse. Today Barack Obama spoke the truth we never dared to say aloud: that this “nagging fear that the next generation must lower their sights” cannot stand.
That “our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests, of avoiding hard decisions” – is banished.
Obama can say these things and it matters. Because he was a man with something to lose, and he risked it. Not by running for president, but by standing unabashedly for the end of cynicism, for the pursuit of his higher angels, and for demanding that we pursue ours as a nation.
He is an extremist about being a moderate, insisting that reason and reasonability, common sense and the common good, be his political compass. Most of us know it. But most of us aren’t in the government.
For a man all about the future, today he spoke eloquently about the past.
What is America? “Our journey has never been one of shortcuts, of settling for less,” he said. Recent experience – say, the past 20 years – argues differently.
But we can change, he says. The journey is not “for those who seek leisure over work, who seek the pleasures of riches and fame,” he said, despite evidence to the contrary on every channel of the tube.
No, instead “it has been the risktakers, the doers, the makers of things,” who defined the American character. “Men and women obscure in their labor…. For us, they endured the lash of the whip, plowed the hard earth. Worked till their hands were raw, so we might live a better life.”
This is hard. How can we live up to the sacrifices of those who came before? The challenges are so diffuse, the world so big and yet so small, the impulse to opt out just a mouse click away.
No, Obama said, we all have to show up and be the change: “The world has changed, and we must change with it.” This is the price and promise of citizenship, he said. And today we all took the first step, a big step, on that road.