Watching the inauguration speech today, it seemed evident to me from Barack Obama’s tone and content that, while the speech included much of the inspirational verbiage we heard in Philadelphia’s Speech on Race and Denver’s Democratic nomination address, we were listening to a man who’s position in history — and his high calling amid numerous national and global crises — had been fully realized.
As was mentioned in a local newspaper editorial, the irony of the moment was palpable. Forty-five years to the day that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington, Obama stood in Denver and accepted the nomination to lead the Democratic ticket. A day after the holiday honoring King for his service to the country, we inaugurated Obama as the first black president.
King Jr. famously said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Today, Obama stood inside both those moments. Surely, it was a happy, triumphant occasion for his family and himself. But it was also a day where the critical position he found himself in, as frigid air beat down on the crowd of a million or more — the largest ever to assemble in Washington — must have come crashing down around him.
Some Republicans have claimed he’s just another politician. And he may very well prove to be nothing more. And even if he is nothing more, we will still be able to say that, for a time, he made many hope and believe a better day was coming — that a betteer day and a more perfect union was within our grasp, just as 40 years prior, King helped us believe the same. Even if Obama turns out to be a dud, at least he gave us that.
But, of course, I sincerely hope (and think he will) turn out to be much more. He’s not a wonder-worker. But these things he brings to the table, which have been missing for awhile: poise, thoughtfulness, careful deliberation (almost to a fault), compassion and erudition.
As the next months and years play out, we should get behind him and remember his Inaugural Day words:
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.