I remember the euphoria four years ago when Barack Obama was first elected. There was excitement across the country and nearly 2 million people crammed onto the Mall to see the inauguration. It was frigid that day and National Guard troops from as far away as Iowa were standing on District street corners. This was our first African-American president and he and his beautiful family were moving to D.C. People in the nation’s capital hoped to have support in the White House for gaining independence from Congress. Many across the nation believed their new president was endowed with superhuman qualities. He couldn’t avoid failing in some ways because no one could have accomplished what they hoped he would.
As we celebrate President Obama’s second inaugural reality has set in. More see him as a man, not a superman. I have debated with friends who “drank the Kool-Aid” and believed miracles would happen. In many ways I am more impressed with Obama than they are. I never expected miracles. What I saw during the first term was real success bringing the nation back from the brink of economic disaster along with advances in human and civil rights for the LGBT community and a continued fight for the rights of women and minorities.
President Obama ended one war and named two women to the Supreme Court. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; fought for and passed a national healthcare program that presidents for decades had been unable to do. He signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act; the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;” ended government support for DOMA; and with a little prod from Vice President Biden came out in support of marriage equality.
He didn’t get much done on immigration or the environment and presided over the lowering of the nation’s credit rating. He faced a Congress whose Republican leaders had one stated goal: to make him a one-term president. Well they lost and we won. So while there is less hoopla over this inauguration there is a rekindled glow about what President Obama will do in the next four years.
Instead of 2 million people at the inauguration as in 2009, there will be about 700,000, still nearly twice the number that came for President Bush’s second inaugural. Instead of traipsing around to numerous inaugural balls the president and the first lady will go to only two; one for invited members of the military and their families and the other for supporters. The president and the first lady will ride, and if we are lucky walk, in the parade and hope it won’t be as cold as it was on Jan. 20, 2009.
This quadrennial event is something America should be proud of. Whether we reelect a president or elect a new one, the inauguration goes on peacefully and with a certain grace. There are always mistakes made by the committees planning them and that is OK because those people are also just human. This year, Ticketron screwed up the tickets for the ball, releasing them a day early and the Presidential Inaugural Committee uninvited a pastor because they didn’t do their homework and only after inviting him found he had delivered anti-gay sermons. One might have thought after the Rick Warren fiasco of the first inaugural that they could have avoided that mistake. This year, the chief justice gets to administer the oath of office privately in the White House on the 20th instead of having to give it there a second time as in 2009 when he messed it up the first time.
This time there is no discussion of where the president’s children will go to school or whether his mother-in-law is moving in, or whether he will be a real part of the D.C. community. We know that won’t happen. But the day after the inauguration, he will be back at his now familiar desk and working and the nation will be better off for that.
We have a president who may have found his voice during this second election and one who will never have to face the voters again. He can speak from his heart without worry every day about whom he will offend. He has about 18 months until everything he does is looked at as being done by a lame duck president. He now understands the levers of government and the power of the presidency better than he did in 2009. We must believe he will use them for the good of all the people.