Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hello, 44

President Obama had quite a day. So did the Nation. Tuesday, January 20, 2009, will no doubt long be remembered long after we're all dead and gone. Like everyone, I looked on in amazement at the events of the day. We've known, obviously, for 77 days that this day was coming. Even so, knowing it and seeing it are two very different things.

Obama's Inaugural Address was crisp, to the point and typical of what we've come to expect from him. With the exception of Chief Justice John Roberts' inexplicable fuck up of the Oath of Office, the day was flawless. Even there, though, Obama demonstrated his calm and cool demeanor, quickly helping Roberts recover.

Many analogies have been drawn between Obama and President Kennedy. Others have remembered Franklin Roosevelt and the economy he inherited in 1933. I would argue, however, that what Obama is facing is greater than that which challenged either FDR or JFK. In fact, Obama is facing a combination of what those two men faced 30 years apart. While FDR had an economy mired in Depression, there were no foreign threats to the country. And while JFK was faced with a red-hot Cold War and very real Soviet threat, his economy - while not at the sky-high level of the earlier Eisenhower years - was nowhere near what we would call poor. Well, President Obama is facing Roosevelt's economy and Kennedy's foreign crisis - at the same time.

First, since he appears to be ok, we can joke about Senator Edward M. Kennedy [D, Mass] trying to steal some of the limelight from Obama by becoming ill during the Inaugural Luncheon. Ironically, I was amazed earlier in the day at just how robust Kennedy looked on the platform. Kennedy has been on the platform for every presidential inauguration since 1961 - the year President Obama was born. Kennedy, of course, played no small role in Obama even being there: it was Kennedy's early endorsement of the Illinois senator that first propelled his candidacy from the realm of fantasy to the reality of today.

Not since the Senator's brother was sworn into office has a new president so captivated Washington, and the country. His combination of youthful energy, steel resolve, calm demeanor and self-deprecating sense of humor all recall the last U.S. Senator elected to the presidency, too. Certainly there was a great deal of excitement about President Clinton in 1993. But that was pre-9/11, pre-Depression [I've decided this is no longer a recession, but is in fact a Depression with a capital 'D']. In fact, we were all still kind of heady in 1993 with the end of the Cold War. While the economy was lousy in 1993, it had already started to pick back up to it's pre-1991 levels. So, while there was excitement, there was also a sense that all was well in the country.

Not so, today. Certainly the analogies can be drawn between Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama in what they inherited upon being inaugurated. From an economic standpoint, FDR's challenge was more difficult. As terrible as 7.4% unemployment is, imagine 12%-15% unemployment. That was FDR's inheritance upon taking office.

So, faced with challenges on economic and foreign policy fronts, our new president reports to work on Wednesday. May he have the strength and wisdom he will need in the years ahead.

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