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Pride in Defeat: Thoughts on the Inauguration

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 20, 2009

Make no mistake: I am not happy that Barack Obama is our President. Still on this Inauguration Day-- as on every Inauguration Day-- I am proud to be an American.

Although I have profound differences with President Obama on matters of policy, I cannot deny that he is a fine orator, and the Inauguration address showed him at his best. He acknowledged the serious problems that our country faces, and summoned up the strengths of the American character to answer the challenge. He offered hope to his listeners. He sounded like a leader.

Yes, there were some partisan overtones in the speech. The outgoing President Bush could not have been terribly comfortable when Obama spoke about the mistakes of the past-- mistakes which he promised to correct immediately. But after all, Obama won the election. He promised to break with the policies of the Bush administration, and the American voters gave him a mandate to carry out that promise. President Bush, who was himself elected to replace a Democrat, understood the situation. The voters asked for change, and now President Obama was telling them that the time of change had arrived. That's a rough message for an outgoing leader to swallow, but politics is a rough game.

So when the new President Obama finished his speech, the former President Bush joined in the applause. The two men may not be best friends, but the transition of power was smooth and gracious. That is the aspect of Inauguration Day that invariably stirs my national pride. Even after bitter electoral battles, when one leader leaves the White House and another enters, the process is peaceful, respectful, orderly. There are no coups, no mass arrests, no hurried flights into exile. The old president welcomes the new one-- not because he approves of his successor's policies, but because he respects the political order set forth in the US Constitution.

Inauguration day is, in a way, a tribute to that Constitution, rather than to the particular actors who take the stage on that particular occasion. We do not know who will be taking the oath of office four years from now, or eight years from now. But we do know that the scene will be similar: the same oath, taken on the same day, marking the same smooth transition. For that we can all be grateful, whether or not we enjoy the political results.

This year, Inauguration Day brings another reason for national pride, as the first American president of African ancestry takes office. One need not be an Obama supporter to recognize the profound importance of this step: the fulfillment of a dream long deferred. Not all African-Americans voted for Obama, and not all will flourish under his presidential leadership. But they can all take pride in the fact that one of their own has reached the Oval Office.

More to the point, all Americans, regardless of racial background, can take pride in the realization that one of us is now in the Oval Office. In his Inaugural address President Obama rightly observed that America's diversity is a great source of strength-- as long as there is unity within that diversity. With his assumption of the nation's highest office, one more artificial distinction has been laid to rest. America's racial problems will not magically disappear, but the Inauguration reminds us how far we have progressed. That too is cause for celebration.

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