The promise (and reality) of a presidency

It’s over.  As I write this, it has become clear that Barack Obama has been elected president.  This election is the culmination of so much hope — not just the hope of ardent Obama supporters that he will win, but also the hope of generations of black Americans, as their journey which began with the ugly stain of slavery takes a new direction with a man of African heritage governing in the White House.

Mr. Obama brings many qualities we need in a president.  He exudes a preternatural sense of calm in the face of adversity.  He plays the long game, keeping his focus on major goals without allowing himself, or his team, to be diverted by trivial distractions.  He has also exhibited a talent for motivating people and inspiring them to aim for great things.  For many voters in this country, he represents a new political energy, something that makes them want to believe once again in our potential as a nation.

But in his quest to accomplish great things, Obama must resist letting his ego get too ramped up from the adulation we bestow upon him.  And we must resist setting the expectations bar too high.  Barack Obama is but a man, prone to the same frailties as you and I.  He has all the makings of a great leader, but he will make mistakes.

Presidencies are shaped by events as much as by the agendas and temperament of presidents themselves.  For all the fear of Obama turning out to be the most liberal president ever or the Antichrist (I’m not sure which his detractors would deem worse), and for all of the converse hope that he can bring America together and shepherd us proudly into a 21st century political paradigm, the fact is that his term will be largely defined by tempests over which he will have little control.

So let’s marvel at and revel in the promise of this presidency.  Breathe it in now — the fresh sense of hope and change and an end to divisiveness.  It’s not going to last.  Reality will soon set in, and then comes the hard part of governing a country that has seen better days in a world that does not view us in quite the same light it once did.  I wish President-elect Obama the best of luck.  He, and America, are likely to need it.


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