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2009-01-20 - 10:26 p.m.

...the price and the humility can make you proud....

I stood before my class today and I told them that I felt as though I was finally recovering from a disease that I've had for the past eight years. I'm not out of the woods, and there's a long convalescence ahead, but the fever has broken.

I was very impressed with the inaugural ceremony today, and glad that I stayed at home to watch it (and risked being late to class). The musical composition was wonderful (how the heck did they stay in tune in that cold weather?), the benediction was brilliant - couldn't have chosen a better man than Lowery.

And the inaugural speech was peppered with no-nonsense talk about the road ahead. It was humble, and to the point. The rhetoric of the USA changed. We are no longer told that we are great because we were born that way. Instead, great things are within our grasp when we strive for them. There is an expectation to work, and of domestic and global responsibility.

I hear many people worry about the unrealistically high expectations that are bound to be disappointed. I'm not worried. God knows, one only has to look at the number of midnight decrees that have set the USA on a backwards course in the last 100 days. Sheesh - these will take years to remedy.

And perhaps I'm too isolated from the common opinion, but we've certainly seen that many presidents - good, mediocre, and awful - have all made mistakes. And furthermore, the nature of our government is such that the power of the executive is limited by crucial checks and balances. There is only so much that can be done.

Still there are many symbolic executive acts that can be made. Clinton, in his first 100 days, created the first US Minister of the Environment on his cabinet - it didn't solve environmental ills, but it set a tone that The Environment was on the presidential agenda. I, for one, will be watching these first 100 days very closely to see what tone is set. What will the symbolic priorities be?

I've heard pundits, comedians, speech analysts, and commentators give their thoughts on what needs to be done. We all have ideas.

Before the inauguration I heard a wonderfully eloquent former Tuskeegee Airman interviewd on NY radio. He talked about his life experiences, starting with his childhood spent with his parents in DC/Maryland. Maryland was segregated at the time, but he recalled their taking him to the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian every Sunday.

He described his experiences with the Airmen - even though African Americans were sometimes described as a less-intelligent sub-species at the time, this group of outstanding men went on to become a crucial asset in WWII - no bombers were lost under their escort.

This particular Airman described organizing a sit-in on an air force base in the South, saying to the head of the base when threatened with a discharge, "you really wouldn't want to discharge us after the president has put so much time and money into training us." He eloquently described the success the Airmen and then went on to talk about his life in NYC following the war. How in the 1940s, he watched his application to become a pilot for Eastern Airlines be balled up and thrown in the trash because "Sorry, we don't hire Negroes."

What impressed me the most was when the interviewer asked him what he wanted to see Obama achieve in office. He listed four things (and my paraphrasing isn't nearly as eloquent and easy as his speech was):
1. get the economy back on track
2. fight the ongoing, subtle racism in America by bring economic parity to women and people of color (and he went on to cite statistics about the inequities)
3. make us a respectable world citizen by getting us out of the wars and
4. address our global responsibility to the environment.

I don't remember the man's name but I wasn't at all surprised to learn that he was an academic and is (at the age of 76!) the president of NY Community College. Impressive man - enough so that I've thought of sending him an email saying how much I enjoyed the interview.

So,everyone I know has an idea of what needs to be done. And no one I know is expecting miracles, and no one is telling us to expect them. But so far, I think the words of a 17-yr-old girl from Long Island standing on the Mall today has expressed the feeling of the moment very well, "I'm amazed to see so many different people come together and look united. and hopeful. and happy. I hope it lasts."

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