The Presidency of Big Plans

The Presidency of Big Plans has begun. Calling for a new era of responsibility, President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, today launched his Presidency speaking to Americans and often to the world.

Of challenges: "They will be met." Of the bitter partisanship that's divided America: "The time has come to set aside childish things."   To those who seek the destruction of America's way of life:  "You cannot outlast us and we will defeat you." A new way of thinking: "The question is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works."  Embracing new ideas and old truths:  "Starting today...(we) begin again the work of remaking America."

He did not shy from his campaign rhetoric with George Bush near him when he spoke of America preparing to lead again in the world.

The new President's rhetorical style often involves referencing someone without naming them.  He spoke of the racial significance of his own swearing in without explicitly saying it and by referencing his father, again without using his own or his father's name.  So, too, with references involving former Presidents.  President Obama today invoked George Washington's courage and vision and FDR's belief in enduring and prospering.   Unlike Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama came to Washington, not having to sneak in, but on the rails of hope.  Today, he did echo Lincoln in talking pragmatically about government, about unity and of what is best in people.

Impressive, majestic, remarkably renewing.  The very image of hope.  Uplifting and reaffirming about the soul of America.  That describes today's transition of power in the Executive Branch which so many of us take for granted.  It isn't just on the Mall today, but in many homes and offices throughout the Philadelphia region, tears of joy flowed again as they did on election night.

Part of what is wonderful about today is that we are rejuvenated as a nation to keep working on our difficult problems.  Part of what is wonderful about today is that we see evidence of becoming the more perfect union envisioned by the framers.  We today have witnessed a physical and emotional display of enthusiasm and a call for rebirth unlike any in my lifetime.  Yes, at times, in the hours that preceded the swearing in, it seemed like Times Square, as the ball was about to drop.  But, that's okay.

How can you not be impressed with and recognize the size and the diversity of people in that groundbreaking crowd?  But, I remember other large crowds, not as large, but meaningful and hope gave way to despair, or anger or disappointment.  Decades ago, on another very cold Washington, D.C. day, I stood in a huge solemn line as a child with my parents waiting to file by the body of a slain President.  In less than 5 years, we would gather in large numbers to mourn the deaths of two other prominent Americans.  In the 1970's, it is easy to forget, President Jimmy Carter arrived with great support for his honesty and down to earth connection to ordinary people, but 4 years later, Americans would choose Ronald Reagan to make America feel good about itself again and revive its standing in the world.  In 1993, Bill Clinton arrived as the "the man from Hope."  Immediately after 9-11, wherever President George W. Bush would go, when I covered him, he was greeted with overwhelming support.  Events and the actual decisions not of a candidate but of a President change all this. President Obama needs this crowd and who they represent to stay the course.

Temple University Professor Thadd Mathis, himself an observer and participant in the civil rights movement, told me whether Barack Obama will be successful will depend on his ability to maintain and enlarge and keep energized and direct the folks who put him in the White House.  It is a mobilization that no President in modern times has been able to maintain. Obama seems to recognize this with Obama 2.0 beginning, his new group, Organizing for America.

This is a transformative Presidency in several ways.  Among them, communication and persuasion. Barack Obama employed symbolism and theatre in ways never seen before. We also saw today the use of that symbolism and the embracing of technology.  This is the interactive administration.

On time itself:  This is not FDR's America.  This is a more impatient America.

Excellence with humility, the lesson the new President and those who oppose him can learn from US Airways Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who attended today's Inauguration:  When asked about the heroic saving of his passengers, he said that he and his crew were just doing their job.  Or as Pastor Rick Warren said today on the west side of the Capitol, "wisdom with humility."

Silly reporting:  In a graphic, CNN declaring late yesterday under New Developments that "People are thrilled with Obama."

Unnecessary comment:  Brit Hume, saying as former President Bill Clinton walked through the Capitol, that President Clinton always looks as if he is searching for the right expression to give.

What will certainly change:  More people will learn how to spell Barack.  According to, there were, before today, at least 60 million pages on the internet in which Barack Obama's first name is misspelled.

I wonder:  School children watched in classrooms.  Will we continue that tradition regardless of party?

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