A new term has officially begun. The celebrations began even earlier than that. Today the nation officially celebrates, and we will hear what our President has to offer as his vision for his 2nd four years.
I know there will be times where I will be critical of him and of his administration. Some of those criticisms will be very strong - on human rights for those denied them, on our increasing use of drones, on the unwillingness to fully protect whistleblowers, on its flawed and damaging educational policy, on an apparent willingness to give too many breaks to certain financial institutions . . . .
And yet I know also how much has been accomplished, starting with the Lily Ledbetter Act leading up to the President's personal commitment to do something about the gun culture that is ruining so many lives and so many communities.
I am 66. I was born when Truman was President. I still have some memories of him from my kindergarten days. Since then I have lived through the presidencies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, GW Bush and now Obama. I lived during the terms of 12 Presidents, So perhaps what I offer below the fold comes with some depth of perspective, perhaps not. In any case I invite you to continue reading.
I think the most important achievement of Obama's presidency has been an awakening, or if you prefer, a recognition by increasing numbers of Americans that we have a responsibility for what happens to us, in our nation and in our local communities. It cannot and should not depend solely upon who is elected to public office, at federal, state or local levels.
Some of that recognition has admittedly led to things I and many hear would consider destructive, whether it was the artificially generated anger of the Tea Party movement or the apparent legitimizing of open racism. Let's be clear - the Birtherism is pure racism.
Yet even that has had a salutary effect, for it has forced some who wanted to assume that with the election of our first President of color we had achieved some final eradication of our national shame of racial hatred. We have not, and it is far easier to address when we can see it clearly.
As an educator I see new rumblings - organizing by parents, by teachers, by administrators. Those of us who are teachers are decreasingly likely to close our doors and teach, we know we have to speak out. When the first Yearly Kos was held mine was perhaps the only highly visible voice in this community regularly writing on these issues. Now we have many voices, whether they be Laura Clawson on the front page, or Lefty Parent advocating for unschooling, or Paul Thomas with his thoughtful essays, to name only three of the very powerful voices here. Others for whom education is not their primary passion also post thoughtful and challenging pieces on the topic from time to time.
As we begin a new term, I think we owe Barack Obama some credit.
He has personally moved in a direction where he now supports marriage equality, and in his public declaration of that moved a significant number of people in some communities that were perceived as hostile to that equality, especially in the African-American community: he legitimized others changing their minds and opening their hearts.
I can criticize the President on policy and on politics. I do not doubt his essential humanity, his ability to valid individuals and communities. I honor his willingness to speak on behalf of those who suffer, be they diplomatic personnel who died in Benghazi, military personnel who died in our overseas misadventures, or any of those who have died in our far too many unnecessary tragedies, be they coal mine disasters in W Virginia or mass shootings - on an Army base in Texas or in a peaceful elementary school in Connecticut.
I was not an early supporter of Barack Obama. Even after I became a supporter I remained a critic on policy and politics, both during his first campaign and throughout his first term.
I remain an admirer of him as a husband, father, and parent.
To put it more simply, I admire him as a human being, and think his essential humanity is something that may have prevented this nation from coming apart despite our tragedies, despite our financial difficulties, despite the hatred that has been directed at him.
I have lived through all of the presidencies of 11 men, part of that of another.
I find things to strongly admire in many of those 12 men. I have found things worthy of criticism in all of them.
Now I do so from the perspective of being older than the last three men to occupy the Oval Office, Obama by more than a decade, his two immediate predecessors by months. I used to say that I would never again have a President to whom I was junior in age, but I have been so impressed recently by Vice President Joe Biden that on that point I am not so sure.
Joe Biden. Of all the political insiders I know the only one who insisted that Obama had to pick Joe Biden was Jim Clyburn of SC. He knew Biden's intelligence, his ability to connect with working-class and lower-middle class whites (the background from which he himself came), his passion for what is right, his commitment to the well-being of ordinary folks.
We have a team, each member of which is part of another team with their remarkable spouses.
Today MOST of the nation will celebrate the beginning of the new term.
Today we will hear the vision Obama has for his remaining days in office. Many of the ideas will be things he has already offered, but perhaps now with a renewed focus.
Perhaps we will hear the kind of rhetoric that inspires, perhaps we will the genuine teacher laying the ground on which we all together can move this country in the positive direction we still so badly need.
Four years ago my wife was in the assembled mass of humanity, with a ticket I obtained from the office of Senator Jim Webb. I sat at the bar of the National Democratic Club, not so far away from where the events were occurring.
Four years ago there was a passion and excitement in the crowd, fueled by the belief of many that they were witnessing and participating in an historic event, a seminal moment in our nation's consciousness.
Those feelings are not so strong this time, but they should be.
That 51% of the popular vote it is important - it is a number reached twice by a President only a few times in our history. Since 1900 it has been only FDR and Eisenhower who achieved that before Obama. Should he complete his term, he will be only the 4th Democratic President since before the Civil War to complete two full terms consecutively.
But those numbers do not tell us all we should know.
Perhaps as a teacher I see something deeper, which is the ability to inspire young people in a way I last saw in the brief presidency of JFK.
Remember, pundits expected a severe fallout in the electoral participation of young voters, but instead it was up from four years ago.
If our nation is going to survive - which may in fact be in question right now - it will be because our young people are challenged and inspired to make a difference.
I think I first understood how Obama has the necessary impact when he substituted for his dear friend the late Ted Kennedy and gave a commencement address at Wesleyan University.
Since then I have seen in the students who have passed through my classrooms.
We can and should challenge him on both policy and politics.
But I hope we never lose sight of how much he has helped this nation accomplish, how he has begun to change the frame on important issues, how he challenges and inspires many to get involved, to take on responsibilities that go beyond their own immediate well-being.
On Saturday we again saw this inspiration in action when the President and the Vice-President led the nation in the day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
I look forward to the President's words later today.
I am delighted that he will continue to be our President.
I thank him for his service to our nation and our people.
I wish him - and all of us - well for the next four years.