- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009




The inauguration of our 44th President generated the kind of excitement normally reserved in Januarys for the National Football League playoffs. For example, in cities and towns from coast to coast and beyond, performing arts centers and other venues opened their doors so that people could experience the event together, as a community. These events will be profoundly more memorable and important than annual Super Bowl watch parties.

What both events have in common is that we start out by looking in; we don’t typically participate. And when “in” comes to the Inaugural, we must do more than look in. We need to participate. Barack Obama has stated that what happened Tuesday was not about one man, it’s about all of us. As Americans, the days of seeing the needs of our nation as “the President’s problem” are over. We must be his partners in our national enterprise and each other’s partners as well. His call to national service must be our own. He could stand alone to take his oath.

One way to stand with him is reading and reciting (if only to ourselves) what’s called the “Citizen’s Oath.” This oath was authored by former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford and other prominent Americans who were convened by the National Conference on Citizenship. The Citizen’s Oath reminds us of our responsibilities as Americans by asking us to consider our civic duties, even as our new President considers his:

“As an American I embrace the responsibilities of self-government. I PLEDGE to learn and live the principles set forth in the charters that define our freedoms: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

“I PLEDGE to keep myself informed about the challenges that face our country and world, and to work with others to meet those challenges.

“I PLEDGE to assist persons in need, and thereby strengthen the bonds among us.

“I PLEDGE to register and vote when I am of age, in every election in which I am eligible.

“I PLEDGE to conduct myself according to the highest standards of civic decency, to foster those standards throughout my community and to expect them of all public officials.

“Through these acts, I commit myself to building a more just, humane, and ethical nation, for my own and all future generations.”

In this we remind ourselves that a good government starts with self-government and that America is the responsibility of every American. And not just on January 20th, 2009.

David B. Smith is executive director of the National Conference on Citizenship, and Michael Weiser is board chair. The National Conference on Citizenship, which was chartered by Congress, encourages a more active and engaged citizenry.

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