President Obama inaugurates a new era

There is, without question, immense historical significance attached to the ceremony taking place in Washington, D.C., today. Barack Obama is the first African-American to be elected president of these United States. True, his mother was white and he isn’t the descendant of slaves, but his inauguration represents a milestone in the centuries-long fight by blacks in this country to be treated as equals.

When our republic was founded, blacks were considered only property, to be bought, sold and treated like cattle. After a bitter Civil War that ended slavery, they were still treated as second-class citizens for more than a century. And even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act a generation ago, many people feared they would never see the day when a black man was elected president.

Members of other ethnic minorities say Obama’s election gives them hope that they, too, have more opportunities to participate in the nation’s body politic.

We join millions of Americans in recognizing and celebrating this historic day. Whether one voted for Obama or not, his inauguration is evidence that this nation — founded with high ideals that it often failed to meet — is moving inexorably toward the goal stated in our Declaration of Independence: “That all Men are created equal.”

While Obama has every right to revel in this day and the magnitude of change it brings, his revelry will, of necessity, be short-lived. Only a handful of presidents have taken office confronted by such serious and seemingly intractable crises.

Topping the list, of course, is the faltering economy. The billions of dollars spent on bailout efforts over the past few months have failed to provoke any significant turn around. And many people are uncertain whether Obama’s massive spending proposals will do the trick.

Furthermore, he will need the support of Congress for whatever he does. But already leaders in his own party, not to mention Republicans, are challenging key provisions of his economic plan.

There are ongoing international issues that will demand Obama’s attention, from Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan to Palestine. And there will almost certainly be an unexpected crisis that will require even more from him.

Promises he made on the campaign trail for things like health-care reform and efforts to stem climate change, are likely to conflict with his efforts to revive the economy and his decisions may frustrate many of his supporters.

There is a continuing desire by many on the left — including, apparently, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — to use the Democrats’ newfound political power to retaliate against the Bush administration with congressional hearings and possible criminal trials. But that would only further divide an already polarized nation.

To his great credit, Obama hasn’t warmed to the idea. He has said he wants to move forward, not dwell on the past.

Obama will quickly move from ceremony to crucible this week, as he begins tackling these tough problems. But he has already demonstrated an amazing ability to keep very disparate groups happy, to seek counsel from people with many different viewpoints and to maintain his equanimity in the face of strident criticism or while dealing with crises.

We sincerely hope that those traits will serve him well in the White House, and that the Obama era will be historic not just in terms of his ethnicity, but in his ability to lead this nation in dealing with its critical problems.


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