Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First Thoughts on the New President

Well, I made it there and back again. Between the early rising, the constant standing, and the endless traveling, I haven't had a lot of time to process the whole inaugural experience (or download my pictures yet). So here's a few simple thoughts.

First, the whole thing was incredible. Over the course of 24 hours I saw Washington D.C. at the most crowded I've ever seen it. Possibly that it's ever been. According to CNN, there were millions of people there who'd come from all over the country and the world. Everyone had come for one purpose. I should confess that I'm someone who is moved just by seeing the capitol building. I know it's Mr. Smith sappy, but I do. So to be there facing the capitol standing in the midst of millions of people from all over who'd gathered to watch the peaceful transition of the most powerful job on the whole planet was truly stunning. Makes me proud to be an American. Seriously.

As for Obama's speech, I think that there was more to it than it's probably going to get credit for. It was not a blow the roof of the place kind of speech, which would have been kind of nice to see. However, I think Obama set his aim even higher than that. To me, it sounded like he's trying to fundamentally shift the debate in Washington.

I don't mean that in the sense that he's said in his speeches about putting aside red/blue states and all that. I think his speech was about putting Congress and everyone on notice that there's a new sheriff in town and that he's the boss. Consider this passage:
"The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified."

Notice that this debate pre-supposes that the big government model (contrasted with Barry Goldwater's vision) has already won the debate and now it's a question of how to implement it. That he said this to great applause from a crowd of millions of people there to see him surely must have sent a message to Congress, who were also sitting there watching the speech.

I expect that as I go through the blogs and columns today I'm going to be hearing a lot about how Obama's speech was "measured" and "optimistic" and all those sorts of words. The word that's likely going to be missing is "aggressive." But I think that it probably belongs.

P.S. Check in tomorrow for pictures. I'll try to post a little photo diary.

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