While the weight of no presidency can be measured on its first day, it can set the pace for the rest of his days. It matters how much energy Obama can leave the gates with. So weighty words are in order, for people’s hopes are real, and Obama’s administration will be judged by their fulfillment.
Sullivan reminds us that we’re participants in his success or failure.
It may be, of course, that the relief at the end of the Bush era is colouring our hopes. It may also be that events conspire to derail the man, or that the habits of the past two decades in Washington will return with a vengeance and do to Obama what was done to Clinton, another centrist Democrat who came to office on a tide of goodwill. But I don’t think that, given the immense crises we all face, it is unreasonable to hope for more.
There is something about Obama’s willingness to give others credit, to approach so many issues with such dispassionate pragmatism, and to shift by symbols and speeches the mood and tenor of an entire country that gives one a modest form of optimism. Even now, as the outlook seems so dark, and as the inheritance seems so insuperable, three words linger in the mind.
Yes, he can. And two words echo back at me.
A TPM reader takes another swipe at grasping the historical power:
I’ve been deliberately cultivating detachment from the Obama brouhaha (and have all along), partly because of my dashed hopes from the early promise of and ultimate deep disappointment in Bill Clinton. (You ain’t gonna suck ME in again, you foolish hopes for a transformative politician! not again!)
But I was watching the NewsHour tonight, a panel discussion with Rev. Joseph Lowery, the graying and regal Charlayne Hunter-Gault (who I had watched making her on-air debut as a nervous neophyte on PBS), and Gwen Ifill, and as they talked about the phenomenon of President Obama, I just started to cry tears of relief and (God help me) hope for this country.
Listen, my mother used to tell stories of segregated WWII-era Washington, DC, where she came to work for the war effort. In her boarding house, the ‘help’ was black, the boarders were white, and the ‘help’ lived in a ‘black’ part of town. I grew up in a border
state in the fifties, where it was “N** this” and “N**” that. I remember when Kennedy integrated the federal Civil Service, and the bitter joke among white civil servants of my acquaintance was, “Work with ‘great viggah’ or be replaced by a ______.” (I’m sure you can fill in the blank.)
Hell, I didn’t even think Obama would make it; I thought he’d be cut down, like Dr. King. Now, though, I’ll leave a little room for hope. Hope that a country that could do such a big thing, after all this time, as elect a black man president, can maybe do the other big
things we’re all being called upon to do, to repair the heartbreaking devastation of the Bush years.
The Washington Post comments on the relevance of grassroots power to Obama’s power:
No president has begun his term with so broad a wave of public confidence — 78 percent approval in the most recent Gallup poll. There are precedents for single-party control of the White House and Congress, but the early signs suggest that House and Senate Democrats will be far more united in loyalty to Obama than their counterparts were to President Jimmy Carter. The Republican opposition, by contrast, appears to be as fractured as at any time since Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat in 1964. If Obama keeps the loyalty of the online social networks he used to win election, with unprecedented success in fundraising and recruiting, his White House could be the first to harness a meaningful grass-roots movement as an ongoing tool of governance.
We can be happy, we can rejoice, we can express optimism, and we need not be ashamed. Our nation did well in choosing Barack Obama to be president. No better first step toward recovery was possible. The office will chafe at him, its burden will sap his strength, but with the public’s wind at his back, he is positioned to and actually interested in giving us what we want. If we waver and worry about reforming health care, we may not get it. If we stammer and stutter about leaving Iraq, we may not get out. If we cannot stalwartly push for a nation powered by clean, renewable energy, our skies will darken.
It is not for me to say what will come of Barack Obama’s presidency. It is for all of us to remember that this is no childish nation in need of a daddy. This is a representative democracy, and our leaders follow us. Can we lead?
I do not know if we will, but I believe that, yes, we can.