I never thought I’d finally see the day, but George W. Bush is no longer President of the United States, and Barack Obama is. I have to say, I’ve paid attention to Presidential Inaugurations since 1981, and I can’t recall one greeted with as much excitement, hope, and expectation. All around my university, in my medical center, and even in my cancer center, auditoriums were set up and the oath of office and inaugural speeches televised on the big screens there. At my cancer center, the auditorium was packed. Our cancer center director was there, as was most of the center leadership and many of the physicians, nurses, secretaries, and researchers. It was standing room only, with actual applause at various points in the speech. Heck, our hospital cafeteria had even proclaimed today “Obama Day” and had revamped its menu to feature many of Barack and Michelle Obama’s favorite foods, some of them supposedly taken from Obama family recipes.
I had never seen anything like it, and this is what we saw:
One year ago, I didn’t think too much of Obama. His relative lack of experience concerned me–a lot. I thought he was highly overrated. His politics were (and still are) more liberal than my politics, although not as much as they would have been in 2000–or even 2004. I had a lot of doubts. Today, I won’t say that I don’t still have some remaining doubts, but Obama has certainly impressed me a lot in the interim since he won the nomination. Certainly, I have a lot more confidence in him now than I did six months ago.
And, yes, I still despise that Obama felt it necessary to choose the gay-baiter and agent of intolerance Rick Warren to give the prayer in order to make nice with the religious right. However, that aside, I’ve been impressed overall with Obama’s handling of the transition thus far. He’s more or less tentatively won me over, and, having voted for him more because I couldn’t stomach John McCain and Sarah Palin than because I really liked Obama, I’m now willing to do more than just give him a chance; I’m rooting for him. I’m also very happy that, whatever my political disagreements with Obama may be, finally, after eight long and painful years, we finally have a President who at least tries to think with his head instead of letting his “gut instincts” rule his decisions, a President who thrives on debate and having his opinion challenged instead of sycophancy. I hope he can maintain that in the fishbowl of the White House, which can all too easily turn into an echo chamber filled with yes men.
We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
This line got serious applause in the auditorium.
Here’s hoping President Obama can do all this and fix the economic mess we’re in (or at least avoid making it any worse than it already is). Here’s hoping Obama can restore science to its rightful place where appropriate in guiding federal policy. I harbor no illusions that, despite the lofty rhetoric of Obama’s speech, politics as usual won’t go on in Washington after Obama’s honeymoon ends. Every new President vows to “end politics as usual” or “divisiveness” and to “heal the nation’s wounds.” Even George W. Bush made similar pledges in his first Inaugural Address. Politics goes on, because that’s what politics demands. Still, for one moment, as I watched the speech with several dozen of my coworkers paying rapt attention, I allowed optimism to stir in me. After all, a racial barrier that I had doubted that I would ever seen destroyed in my lifetime has been shattered, and the man who did it respects intellect, reason, and science. I can’t help but feel optimism that maybe–just maybe–this time there will be significant change.
And not just change, but change for the better.