For one brief moment today, this country lives up to Barack Obama's fervent exhortation from 2004: "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America."
Not all inaugurations are created equal. We are today privileged to join in the magic of a First Inaugural.
It's an event much like a wedding -- wherein it is the first for both bride and groom.
Boundless joy and hope link all concerned -- bride, groom, guests and observers. It matters little that countless other marriages also have begun in joy but either either failed completely or just faded with time. All silently say to themselves, "This one will be different -- the love and passion that exists at this moment, will survive the challenges that the future holds."
Yes, there are some in the church (or City Hall) who harbor doubts, but they keep their feelings to themselves, and put on a happy face to give proper honor and respect to the happy couple.
Such it is with the First Inauguration: Country joins with President in a shared hope for the future. It matters little that previous presidents (even the good ones) disappointed the country at some point.
For this one brief moment, it might only last a few hours beyond the swearing-in, the nation is united in hope for the future. Even those harboring doubts that one or both partners will prove unfaithful or unsteady, keep those doubts to themselves -- out of honor and respect for the couple honestly trying to make this union work.
Regardless of how controversial they were when they took the oath or how controversial they became later on, there was one magic moment in January when the country felt good enough to put aside the passions of even the most contentious of elections and allowed itself to feel hopeful about the man ready to lead it -- a Richard Nixon in 1969, a Jimmy Carter in 1976, a Ronald Reagan in 1981,a George H.W. Bush in 1989, a Bill Clinton in 1993 or a George W. Bush in 2001 (whose election admittedly put this theory to the test.)
At noon Tuesday, the "marriage" of Barack Obama and the United States will be official. Polls show that he is being given a greater benefit of the doubt than almost all of his predecessors. It is as much to do with the current state of affairs as it is to do with the unique set of characteristics that Obama presents. Sure, he's elected to turn the economy around, solve Iraq and Afghanistan, close Guantanamo Bay, restore the image of the United States around the world, etc. etc. But Obama represents a hope that not only the unfinished business of the last eight -- or even sixteen -- years will be taken care of, but America's unfinished business dating back to the Founding.
Of course, asking a politician, even a biracial one, to "solve" racism is like asking a clergyman to "fix" sin. It's not something that can be done. Yet, this is a central hope that this country has invested in this man -- and yet he is hardly flinching from it. From such dizzying heights, some marriages continue to soar, while others get too close to the sun and burn up in heat of their frustrated dreams.
Who knows what fate has in store for this particular union?
What we do know is that, four years from now, if the first term is successful enough and Barack Obama is re-elected, what then is the Second Inaugural? Consider that a renewal of vows. In just over four years, each partner will have learned so much. Yes, the connection is still there, but it's never quite as good as the first time.
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots and dabbles in stand-up comedy.