THE NATIONAL MOMENT – A NEW PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
The United States will witness the first person of color to be sworn into office next Tuesday, January 20, 2009. Barack H. Obama, formerly and briefly the junior senator from Illinois, will take the oath of office at noon that day and the hopes of a nation will transfer to a man whose ascendancy to the highest office in our land had once been thought of as a “pipe dream.” What are we to think of all this? What are Catholics to think? What are Democrats to think? What are Republicans to think? What are liberals to think? What are conservatives to think? What are Americans to think on the eve of this transfer of power?
First, everyone should take some measure of pride that free elections were once again held as they have been since the organization of the republic and a candidate of color ran for the Presidency. Try that in Russia or Zimbabwe or Cuba to name but three countries where elections are manipulated and results imminently predictable. We should at least be proud that we live in a land where every vote counts and where just a few votes can occasionally make a big difference (Minnesota and Alaska this time around, for example).
Secondly, for weal or woe, Barack Obama will be our president. It is in everyone’s best interests to pray for his success in office. We need leadership now in a unique and special way, at least in my lifetime and memory. We need him to be successful. This country needs him to be successful and perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to say that the world needs it also.
Thirdly, we need to be prepared for disappointments. Those of liberal persuasion are already humming tunes of disenchantment with him and even the conservatives might find him neither totally nor easily the object of their disaffection for which they may have hoped. A president needs to govern this country from the center, not the extremes and that is one of my prayers for the President-elect.
Fourthly, we should hope and pray that he and his colleagues will be able to restore the reputation of the United States abroad and throughout the world. Let me just say as someone who has traveled throughout the world in the last six years when I was chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services, both the nation and its citizens (for the first time in my lifetime) were sometimes ridiculed by former friends. As citizens of the United States, we have always been generous to others but that quality was quickly being forgotten by the common-folk of the world.
Fifthly, I hope the President can control his own party in the Congress and win sufficient support from the opposition to advance better health care opportunities, a gentler, kinder and enforceable immigration policy, a leadership position in helping the states to care better for the health and education of children and the vulnerable elderly.
Finally, I pray that the new President will be attentive to the pleas of those who wish to protect human life, respect our moral position, and not divide the nation on the issue of abortion or embryonic stem cell research. I am prepared to be somewhat disappointed but I still hold out the hope that he and his cabinet will find room in their hearts, minds and programs for the protection of all human life, womb to tomb as well as the rights of individuals of conscience in these matters. Divide us and expect to hear us and from us.
The nation is about ready to “get on” with its civic life with a new hand at the tiller guiding the ship of state. We need as citizens to put away all the trash-talk, horrible rhetoric, and even the prejudices of the campaign and hope and pray that we can support our new president now and throughout his time in office.