Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:06:00 01/20/2009
A sea of faces — unprecedented in their millions, collectively representing an individual resolve to see and be seen making history — was, literally, upturned when Barack Obama raised his hand and enunciated the presidential oath of office. They were from all walks of life, of different races, individually committed to a demonstration of national solidarity and collectively comprising a celebration of democracy.
Obama himself set the tone for the national re-consecration to democracy every inaugural, but especially his inaugural, represents by stating in his message about his inauguration, “It’s not about me. It’s about us.” This shows him firmly in lock-step with the millions present to witness his swearing-in, and who viewed it on TV around the world.
But surely, from his place at the inaugural platform erected on the West Front of the US Capitol, where every American president since Ronald Reagan has taken the presidential oath, and taking in the vista of the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, Obama, in seeing all those faces, each one trying to get a glimpse of him, each one trying to savor the moment, knew it was also about him. Indeed, few of those present in Washington, DC or defying limitations of geography or time zones by viewing the event live on television could have ignored the monumentality of the occasion.
For these tens of millions, both among his countrymen and the rest of a humanity genuinely charmed by this man, it is Obama himself that is history — history, both as fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream, and in the making, of the unfolding of a yearning old as history itself, for a new generation, as John F. Kennedy once proclaimed, has stepped forward to hold up the torch of leadership. History, too, in the manner it was understood by the ancient Greeks, which is less a matter of the chronicling of dry facts and more the telling of a story for the moral education of the present and the future.
Historians have been busy figuring out if the new American president — who distributed copies of “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin to aides, yet consciously made sure to make conspicuous on his desk during recent television appearances “The Public Papers of John of Kennedy,” and who has spoken, in these recession-filled times, of the need to fight fear as Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression — will consciously walk in the footsteps of his predecessors. Undoubtedly Obama found inspiration — the enduring moral lessons for a profession (politics) infamous for its reluctance to be imprisoned by idealism — in the past. Obama returned, in many ways, politics to its ancient origins in the days of the great orators of ancient times. He set out to restore the Agora — the market place of ideas, where rhetoric and debate served as tools for the liberation, and not the subjugation, of humankind — to political life.
Filipinos can do no better than recall how Obama restored to politics the power of words: the inspirational, transformational, abilities of articulated thought. This is the opposite of the spin and demagoguery that have characterized politics for so many for so long.
Jose Rizal once observed that there are no tyrants where there are no slaves. It is breaking the shackles of slavery that Obama’s inauguration fundamentally represents in millions, even billions, of minds. What was inaugurated was not just the presidency of one man, but rather, the end of one era and the beginning of the next. To take Obama to the White House involved the smashing of the shackles of racial bigotry, the breaking of the shackles of fear by liberating people from the shackles of apathy born of cynicism, one person at a time.
His inaugural marked the start of a new campaign — to remove the shackles of debt for societies and individuals, among many other fights still to be waged — and the proper way to fight it. Not through the politics of division, but through the politics of unity. The basis of that unity, he has taken pains to emphasize in the days leading to his inaugural, is a sense of individual responsibility that aspires to collective harmony. Again, a demonstration of being in lock-step with the times: volunteerism, cooperation, the Power of One, all are signs of the times, and a sign of how the times have been a-changing.
So it was that from sea to shining sea, from that sea of shining, happy faces, whether under the harsh wintertime glare in Washington or the glow of billions of TV sets, there was, for a moment, the coming together of a planet to marvel at democracy, a peaceful transition of power, and the power of words inspiring deeds.