Now the hard part begins.
Following the promise must be the delivery and that will be daunting.
There is the banking crisis and the housing crisis and the auto crisis and the job crisis and the credit crisis and the panic crisis and the energy crisis and the global warming crisis and the myriad of overseas crises including two wars, all of them separate but linked. Welcome to the Oval Office, Mr. President.
It seems fair to ask whether any man, even one with such magnetism, youthful energy, fertile imagination, clear intelligence and noble intentions, can bring us back, can solve even a portion of the problems and make us once again the envy of the world morally and economically. And even if he can, which we all fervently hope, how long will we give him to do it? How long does he have before the iconic aura begins to fade and the cheers turn into grumbles? How long before the glory of the White House becomes a prison, the job a crucible?
Move as quickly as possible, sir, while much of the world seems to love you. And Barack Obama seems to be doing just that, issuing directives on his first full day that pave the way to the ultimate closing of the prison at Guantanamo and ordering new ethics and lobbying rules. But the crucial work on the economy and ending the occupation of Iraq must necessarily hold most of his interest for the time being.
The new president himself warns that it will not be easy, that it may take far longer than we would like and that we must have the fortitude to stay the course of change in a changing world. If we do, he pledges, it will happen and our children and grandchildren will reap the benefits.
But, to be trite, that is easier said than accomplished, especially when there is a daily announcement of layoffs and we are asked to spend $1.5 trillion at least, partially to save a system that has fostered greed and malfeasance at our considerable expense. It is difficult to be patient when the small amounts we have saved for retirement — funds built tediously by hard work and perseverance while raising and educating future good citizens — are disappearing rapidly, leaving us with uncertain ability to sustain ourselves independently even before our declining years.
So Barack Obama begins a job those of his race thought might never be attainable, facing a maelstrom of necessary decisions and actions, an unrelenting demand for the kind of leadership millions upon millions of idolizing Americans believe he will bring. As his visage appeared on television screens around the globe, Wall Street not unsurprisingly saw a different promise. It tanked, living up to its reputation as populated by fools and felons, some of whom undoubtedly regarded Obama’s stated promise of increased oversight as detrimental to their health.
Where does he begin, this son of a Kenyan and a Kansan? Solving so many problems at once is like hitting a sofa pillow. The punch merely sinks in and is surrounded by other problems. One would think that restoration of health to banking and credit remains the necessary starting point. Many of the billions of dollars previously won by George W. Bush seemed to have gone elsewhere. The release of the remaining funds as sought by Obama during the transition period will go to try to relieve the financial institutions of their horrendous mortgage burdens.
It appears certain that his popularity at the moment gives him important leverage in a Congress that despite an enhanced majority for his own party can still be recalcitrant, divisive and always angry until assailed by the public.
The remarkable spectacle of the inauguration is over. The cries of "O-ba-ma" have faded and the first dance before weeping men and women in a half dozen balls has ended. The pledges and the calls for all Americans to serve have been made. Only the higher power that guides us all knows whether the promise will be fulfilled. We have no other choice but to pray it does.
Seldom has so much hope been placed on the abilities of one man.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)