Not since Atlas has so much responsibility and hope weighed on the shoulders of one man. Millions of people from around the world paused at 5pm UK time to witness the inauguration of this man who personifies optimism in the face of adversity and the hopes of a nation searching for new solutions in a troubled world.
A week ago I was in Washington DC where the sense of euphoria and expectation was already creeping across the capital. Marquees were being erected, street vendors were selling Obama T shirts and people of all ages and from all corners of the globe, not just the nation, were pouring into town choosing vantage points to ensure they would witness this historic event so they can say ‘20th Jan 09 – I was there.’
The build up to today has been a carefully crafted exercise of symbolism and purpose, fuelled not only by a formable campaign team working overtime, but by the nation itself willing Obama on. This is seen as a celebration in achieving what many thought might never happen as well as a panacea to national and international headaches.
Obama is already one of the most accomplished speakers of our time and today’s commanding performance, which included an sober assessment of the challenges ahead, was no exception. He was not just addressing his own country, but the world, and succeeded in emulating his hero Abraham Lincoln in uniting a nation and defining a moment in history.
I happened to visit the US History Museum during my trip and read a copy of the address written by Abraham Lincoln on display, from which the title of Obama’s speech A new birth of freedom was taken. Not expecting to be quoted, Lincoln’s two minute address delivered at the National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in November1863 stated ‘The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.’
Today the election of a black President shows how much of that work has now been achieved. And today the poetry ends and the prose begins. The challenges President Obama faces are indeed formidable; but the state of the economy, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza, to mention but a few, will all have to wait until tomorrow.
And today there is indeed a new dawn of hope, a rekindling of confidence in country that deserves to celebrate a truly historic landmark in its short yet remarkable history.