Much enthusiasm, much emotion have been displayed today, and well they should be. Not only does every president deserve his victory celebration, but the nation also needs these moments of civic renewal to remind itself that its principles and mechanics endure.
Consider it a quadrennial doctor’s visit. Uncle Sam drags himself into the doctor’s office, is run through the paces and found wanting in some respects. The body politic has its ailments diagnosed, given certain prescriptions for recovery, but is also told that things should be just fine in the long run. After paying the bill, Uncle Sam leaves the building, medications in hand, with new confidence – nothing fatal, just some work to do.
This checkup, of course, came with particularly good — and particularly bad — news. On the positive side, America was declared as emerging from what many once thought its terminal affliction: its obsession with race. If this election has truly heralded the cure of this disease, President Obama may well be a top-10 President this afternoon. On the other hand, the nation is fighting two wars, is plummetting into a deep recession, and hasn’t fixed many of the problems that faced it at the last checkup (i.e., health care costs, illegal immigration, massive deficits).
To his credit, the President’s speech embraced the total diagnosis. He did not let this historic moment pass without meditating on its crucial importance. He also did not let its symbolic significance overtake the very real challenges facing our nation’s health. I may spend much of the next four years disagreeing with our President’s prescriptions for binding up our nation’s wounds, to quote an Obama favorite. We may also find that such medicine doesn’t go down very well, or that the cure is worse that the disease. But if the Obama Administration maintains the clear-eyed approach on display at the Capitol today, we can expect that he will adjust the course of treatment as the patient’s recovery demands it.
In the end, none of us can expect more from our nation’s leaders than that.