Apolitical Reflections for Inauguration Day


Posted on January 19, 2009 by Blake Leath

Tomorrow is Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009, and while I am no Presidential scholar, I sense the weight and significance of the day deep in my bones. Perhaps more importantly, I sense the promise.

I know that many are hanging great hopes on President-elect Obama, hopes that are unlikely to be achieved by any mortal. Likewise, many others write derogatorily about him, continuing the whispering campaigns that began 2+ years ago now.

But my comments today are apolitical and apartisan. Instead, I mean to reflect on the forthcoming Obama Administration from a Leadership perspective. Admittedly, when I watch the news at night, as I did last night, there are so many nuances to the political machinery that is the United States that I periodically find myself recalling the words of Oscar Wilde, who once wrote, "I am not young enough to know everything." Regardless, there are things I do understand -- that we ALL understand deep in our souls. It is a few of these understandings that I wish to mention, however briefly, today.

First and foremost, on January 15, 2009, Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 80 years old. He gave his infamous, I Have a Dream speech 46 years ago. A number of people were interviewed on TV last night describing the significance of this Presidency, and as tears flowed and the history of slavery in the United States was recounted from the year 1619 forward, the profundity of Inauguration Day was palpable. By now, we all know Obama's history quite well... white mother, distant father, raised by Grandparents, Hawaii, Harvard. Arguably, this arc could become as well-known as Lincoln's one day. 

Which brings me to a second observation. As Obama stood in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial yesterday and addressed the crowd, those who had just moments prior tuned-out U2, Shakira, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Usher, and other musicians, the contrast was stark. When Obama took to the podium, all eyes were fixed on him and the crowd grew silent. All of us who have respected and read Lincoln with admiration could not help but be moved by the fulfillment of Lincoln's aspirations in our soon-to-be 44th President. It took us long enough to get here, but we're well on our way now.

And so, a third point. There are many in the halls of academia, politics, popular culture, the media, and the streets and halls and churches and synagogues across America who are dialoguing about the progress we have made on the battlefield of racism. Or, as some argue, the lack of progress still. Indeed, the battle is far from over, as one cannot help but notice as he traverses this country. Bigotry has always and will always exist. It is a symptom of the hardships of life. But indeed, Inauguration Day will mark a turning point and will serve as a beacon for many. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you must keep moving forward." It was said yesterday that Lincoln crawled so King could walk so Obama could run so our children could fly. My goodness. If that doesn't bring tears to your eyes then you're not alive.

Fourth, it is against this canvas of history that we see HOPE in all its radiant glory. The American people have a history of electing the right leader for the time, and as has been said before, "Hope beats Fear in most elections." I'm sure that Tuesday's Inauguration Speech will be a blend of Lincoln, Kennedy, Roosevelt, and yet be uniquely Obama. He will predictably describe the difficult years ahead, the trade-offs and sacrifices that must be made, the Grand Bargains and dampening of expectations we must accept, and then plant seeds of soaring hope and rhetoric that can only be fulfilled if we all join together. The past few years have been difficult for all Americans, and many lives have been lost protecting our borders and citizens. A complicated inheritance lies at the feet of Obama and his circle. A Pandora's Box if there ever was one. We cannot expect that Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Economy, Healthcare, Education and a myriad of other pressing challenges will be resolved to anyone's satisfaction within one Administration. Indeed, I'm certain these issues are a complicated morass that is worsened by bureaucracy and the gunk that retards any democracy committed to choirs vs. soloists. As we learned in grade school, "Any number times zero equals zero." So tape-up and suit-up; we've got to take the field together if we stand any chance of winning the war on mediocrity, failure, and stagnation that has strangled our K-12 public education system, our worldwide reputation, our ability to create and implement progressive reform across industries, technologies, sciences, and social infrastructure. 

And finally, an observation on the importance of listening, curiosity, and remaining a lifelong student. In the months leading up to the November 2008 Presidential Election, as we all engaged in bipartisan debates about the candidates, anyone who stood far enough back from the fray to observe the behaviors of Obama couldn't help but be impressed by one singular distinction: his approach to problem-solving. For decades, I have been disillusioned by politics, having seen elected official after elected official who failed to keep his campaign promises, who lived a life of hypocrisy and absent-integrity (by preaching 'family values' while involved in a debaucherous lifestyle), but most importantly -- by seeing the absence of an 'abundance mentality.' Like the racoon in Where the Red Fern Grows, our elected officials seem to latch onto their party's shiny silver object, whatever that object is, and never let go. They conduct closed-door meetings, they exclude others with potentially brilliant insights, they do what their gut tells them, they remain committed to their personal convictions and ways of thinking, however shallow or poor they may be. Sure, all great leaders demonstrate a courage and fortitude, but only ignorant leaders presume they know all or perhaps even enough. If we are to know anything, we must often exit our inner-circle and seek wisdom wherever it may be.

I've commented to my wife (often after seeing luminaries like George Will and others who have such a broad grasp of the body of knowledge of politics), "I wish our President would just go to dinner with a bunch of folks like George and treat them as a Think Tank. It could only help to get a more well-rounded perspective." And so, with great delight, I watched the footage of Obama at an intimate dinner party at George Will's house no less, along with nine other conservative intellectuals. What I would have given to have been a fly on THAT wall.

But this is promising, regardless of your political viewpoints, because it demonstrates what unquestionably worked so well for Lincoln: the surrounding of oneself with counter-views and disparate thinking. Through divergent thinking, we then converge on a solution that is robust, well-rounded, and ultimately the most informed. Indeed, it will be Obama's Presidency and Administration, and I have no doubt that he will make his own decisions and perhaps periodically, 'from the gut.' But his process of arriving at those decisions will be a rigorous one, inviting skeptics and naysayers and conservatives and the like to the table for a healthy debate and dialogue.

You gotta love that. It's what this country is predicated on and, like any great democracy, it's what's required to move forward.

Like it or not, we're off to the races now. We've got many hurdles ahead, lots of water-jumps and perilous conditions, fierce competitors, a rowdy crowd, and more saboteurs than we can count. As for my prediction regarding our placement in the upcoming photo finish, I like what they say... "Whether we think we can win or think we can't, we're right."