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A New President

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by Doug Thompson

It’s Tuesday, and the first U.S. president younger than I am was sworn in today.
You don’t have to believe in “change” to recognize a milestone. Some moments are so momentous, so complete a rejection of what came before that no long view of history is needed to see the tide come in.
President Barack Obama faces entirely changed circumstances from the shaken but truly united United States of Sept. 11, 2001. In a way, he has a country more unified. He certainly has a country in more real danger.
Horrific as the 9/11 attacks were, they were terror bombings. They were not war. The defenders of ex-president George W. Bush’s legacy that piped up in the last few days don’t seem to know the difference. All the arguments centered on how we weren’t attacked here again. They overlook the soldiers we sent oversees. The Bush apologists beg the question of why anyone should come over here to kill Americans when there are plenty nearby, on what is to the fanatic or the merely patriotic their own sacred soil.
More ghastly, the argument that Bush “kept us safe” overlooks the uncounted thousands of Iraqis and Afghans killed. It’s not far from blithe acceptance of Iraqi civilian casualties to the attitude of “kill ‘em all. Let God sort them out.”
I look to Obama’s inauguration with hope, perhaps even with optimism. I hope I was wrong about him. I have some grounds for believing I was. He remained calm when the financial crisis hit. I tell myself with good reason that mere competence would be a vast improvement.
Still, he is an undiscovered country. The American voter remains ready to throw off the evils that they know and hope there are none they don’t know. This bothers me. Barack Obama’s chief qualification to be president is the same as W’s. He was the best campaigner and fundraiser. Obama also benefited greatly from the times in which he ran.
We’ve thrown off one party’s rule to accept another’s. I hope the Democratic party is too chaotic to be a true single party, and suspect it is. The defining characteristic of somebody who calls himself a Democrat these days is that he’s unwilling to call himself a Republican.
I also think that the American public, eager as it is to try new things, will be the check and balance it was not willing to be for Bush.
Obama fans in this city have accused me of being a sore Hillary Clinton backer and even a bigot because I won’t fall under the spell. I’m neither, nor am I prejudiced against Obama’s youth. I’m someone who realized a long time ago that the United States of America — as a nation and as an ideal — is in very serious trouble. I still don’t think now is the time for newness for newness’ sake.
State legislator of no particular distinction, cautious senator for less than one full term, and now president of a country that is in a dire condition.
Newness is needed when things have gone stale, not when they’ve gone to hell.
We’ll know soon if I was right to worry. Six month’s from now I’ll write a column about how wrong I was — I hope. Either way, I will write one taking stock. The believers in Obama are owed that much. If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it. June 26: Mark the date if you’d like to see me eat my words, as I hope to be doing. If I get the chance to reject my doubts earlier, I will.
For now I hope you enjoyed the inauguration. Now it’s over. “Our revels now are ended.”
Perhaps I’m wrong at the most basic of levels. I don’t think we need “Hope,” though. The Iraqis need hope. We still have electricity and running water most days. The Afghans need hope. So do the Palestinians and the Israelis, although I doubt more every day that both can get it.
What we need is inspiration, and that’s something Obama does provide. Here’s to seeing what he can do with it.

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