Commentary: A new day in America

This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Set among Washington's monuments to the past, the inauguration yesterday of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States was about the future. History echoed all around the 47-year-old president – echoes of Washington, Jefferson and the other founding fathers, echoes from Arlington, where rest brave Americans who fought to preserve the freedom sought by those leaders. There were echoes from presidents past, Lincoln and Roosevelt, and echoes from a march of 45 years ago wherein those denied the equality that freedom should bring demanded it and a young preacher articulated it in a speech for the ages.

But President Obama spoke in his inaugural address of the days and years ahead. "The challenges we face are real," he said, "they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America. They will be met."

The new president came to power yesterday at the U.S. Capitol, under a sun-splashed winter sky. A crowd unprecedented in number – 1 million people, perhaps – was there to witness the pageantry of power transferred. Around the world, the moment was watched and heard by billions more. America may have enemies and critics, but the orderly passing of power in this democracy still stirs wonder in all people.

And so the new president spoke, during the course of his address, to all of them, and to their leaders. But he made clear that the nation's crises here at home are many, from the overall economic downturn with its mortgage failures and lost jobs, fear and uncertainty, to problems in our system of health care. Obama stated simply that a sea-change in philosophy is needed, "that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous."

He said, "The question we ask today is not whether government is too big or too small, but whether it works. Whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where it is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between the people and their government." He set a tone that invites cooperation and a forswearing of political gamesmanship.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.