Last week, on the eve of his historic inauguration as this nation's 44th President, an opinion poll showed that Barack Obama enjoyed an 80% approval rating from the American public as he takes office. At the beginning of his Presidency, Barack Obama faces an opportunity unknown since at least the beginning of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first term. He takes office with incredible popularity at home and abroad.
The Inauguration was truly a global community event. An estimated two million people filled the National Mall to witness the event in person. One million more stood on the periphery or along the parade route in Washington. In excess of two billion people watched the event on television or online. All over the globe, people gathered together to watch the event with their friends, neighbors and family. Millions live blogged or micro-blogged about the event.
The last time the global community shared in an event was in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. In fact, over the last several generations, most of the events that have brought us together were shared tragedies. This week, the world community shared together in an event that held - at least on the surface - the promise of hope, optimism, change, and even a degree of national unity.
Now comes the hard part: actually governing. Obama must now lead the nation through the financial, international, and social problems that beset us. A candidate - and even a President-Elect - can make promises and pronouncements, or engage in critiques of the failed policies of the past. A President doesn't have that luxury. He has to make the policies, make good on the promises, and seek to build up rather than tear down.
Can you imagine how it must have felt for President Obama the first time he was in the Oval Office alone? Former President Bush was quoted last week as saying the first time he found himself in that position, he felt as if the weight of the world had descended upon his shoulders. When the "weight of the world" fell on Bush's shoulders in January 2001, it was before 911, before Afghanistan, before Iraq, before the financial crisis that looms over us now.
It remains to be seen how - or even if - President Obama will be able leverage his considerable charm, political savvy, personal convictions, oratorical skills, and innate leadership abilities to lead America and the Free World. I can only say that I want him to succeed with all of my heart. I don't agree with many of his positions on the issues, but I want him to be a great President nonetheless.
I want to see him bring our nation together to overcome our present challenges. I want to see him work side by side with Republicans, Democrats and Independents to make our government more responsive to the people, and reign in spending. I want to see the war in Iraq end in such a way that leaves that country as a democracy and a force for peace in the Middle East. I want to see victory in the war on terror in Afghanistan. I want to see an end to the Red State - Blue State impasse.
Can he do it? Again, it remains to be seen. To paraphrase Mark Twain: "I hope he can. I hope it... I doubt it." The odds are stacked against him. He certainly possesses the intellect and communication skills, but remember James Buchanan and Jimmy Carter were perhaps the most qualified people to assume the office, yet history remembers them as less than successful Chief Executives. Not to mention that the business of partisan politics - making your colleagues across the aisle out to be the boogeyman - is how politicians hold on to power at all costs. When was the last time you saw a politician - Republican or Democrat - exercise true political courage putting the interests of the country ahead of advancing the interest of his party? I'll give you some time to think. Like, oh, say, a week or so.
But I am an eternal optimist. I am still holding on to hope that President Obama can be a transformational leader. I hope he becomes a historic president. I hope he can take full advantage of the golden opportunity before him and us.
I hope you will join me in sincerely lifting our President up in prayer.