- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2009


Among religious people and others, there was a lingering, evocative sense here in the nation’s capital over the last few days of this Inaugural that great leaders are often “sent” in difficult times to answer a people’s prayers — and that this may well be happening to America now.

“There’s something about perilous times that God always sends the best of men,” Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor of the Potter’s House in Dallas, preached at one service here. And we know from the past that men whose beliefs or backgrounds are importantly different from the mainstream’s - the great late-19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who was originally Jewish, for instance - often emerge at troubled periods in a nation’s history.

Such men are not burdened with the national sins of the past; those sins have not been their own experience and they do not carry its guilt. So a man like our new president can come sweeping in — from where, from the world? — like a breath of fresh air, with that serene look in his eyes and a promise of national redemption.

What does the Obama Inaugural address, which will be analyzed for countless decades to come, tell us about this man from another planet who now leads America?

First and above all, that he understands the moment and grasps its unique challenge with energy and even with joy! This is “a moment that will define a generation,” he said in the speech, and “it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.” This is a generation that must now come to think differently because “our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.”

He tells us — and the world — that we will meet the challenges, however difficult, after 10 years of disaster. “Today, I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.”

But they will not be met by changes in government and in governing alone. “The instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends - honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. … What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.”

And here, oh my, one must pause and take a deep breath. Serious traditional conservatives and radical nutty neocons have looked at Mr. Obama and seen another Democratic Party “radical” who must be put down. Traditional liberals have been sparse and cautious with their praise, constantly prying and tweaking him to go further on everything from Guantanamo to getting out of Iraq, and to family planning programs — essentially seeing him as too “conservative.”

Ah, but we have to see and especially describe President Obama in new and different terms. Our new president is a quintessential man of renewal, of using the votive fuel of knowing how we have failed in order to remake America, and to remake it, not in any strange or unfamiliar manner, but in terms of its most traditional values.

He is calling America forward and backward in the same breath; that was the core of his message Tuesday, and it will surely be the core of his presidency. This is the man-from-everywhere, but with classic American virtues, calling us back to our own best selves.

What is implicit in his words, although he does not specifically use this word, is that the country has become shabby. We were giving in to our worst selves. Look only at the disgusting “real” TV shows that clutter our unregulated airwaves, look at the disintegration of quality in our education system, look at the lack of responsibility in everything from parenting to banking and finance. Both political parties are to blame.

After the cultural wars of the 1960s, the Democrats unleashed an internal intellectual war in the universities, using multiculturalism, political correctness, a perverted women’s lib and other new “ideologies,” their better lessons now misused, to downgrade our education system to egalitarian ignorance.

On top of that, the traditionally honorable Republicans were largely taken over by the radical neocon wing that used the party shamelessly to convince an ideologically untethered and intellectually unaware George W. Bush to wage wars across the Middle East and Central Asia, thus virtually bankrupting the country even while it was destroying the traditional values of conservatism.

Had these two extremes continued, America could have been caught forever in foreign wars, domestic race problems and systemic failure.

But, as his Inaugural speech so clearly shows, Barack Obama doesn’t fit into any of those old categories; in fact, he skips over them with elegance and eloquence, as he returns to the nation’s oldest and most secure inner values. Or, as former President Bill Clinton commented at a meeting of mayors before the Inauguration, politics over the next 30 years will be marked by a practical, inclusive approach rather than the partisan battles of the last 40 years.

And so we are left with the new promises of a new president - and perhaps a truly new man - who says we will “harness the sun and the winds and the soil.” One wants to ask flippantly, “Is that all?” but then only take a deep breath and say, “Let’s get started.”

Georgie Anne Geyer is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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