Some of them remember Roosevelt. Some of them have no memory of anyone not named Bush or Clinton.
Just as the big event draws people from many generations, its allure crosses other demographic lines as well.
They arrive by private jet from Hollywood mansions and Manhattan skyscrapers. They also come by bus from schools, factories and party precincts. Not all have VIP access, but everyone feels important.
This week’s presidential inauguration shares the same kind of broad appeal that all inaugurations have, with the only difference being the sheer amount of excitement surrounding this particular gathering.
We can attribute only some of the fervor to the guest of honor. President-elect Barack Obama has charisma and the ability to inspire, but the moment belongs not only to him. The man who will become the 44th president shares the stage with history — and not all of the reasons why involve the obvious, though no less significant, matter of race. Obama has reached heights that once seemed unattainable, thereby reaffirming this country’s cherished ideals of opportunity, and yet the storylines go further.
As we mentioned earlier, many Americans headed toward young adulthood have been able to count on at least one constant in their lifetimes: that someone with the last name of Bush or Clinton would occupy the White House. So ends, at least for now, a brief era of presidential dynasties.
In addition, the last incoming president to arrive directly from the U.S. Senate was John Kennedy. The recent list of senators who have come up short includes John McCain, John Kerry and Bob Dole. This administration will interrupt a four-term run of onetime governors (Bill Clinton, Arkansas, and George W. Bush, Texas). Not counting the first President Bush, governors have dominated the presidency since Jimmy Carter (Georgia) and Ronald Reagan (California).
For those interested in the politics of geography, the combination of Barack Obama from Illinois and Joe Biden from Delaware marks the end of another long-running trend of Southerners and Westerners holding the presidency and vice presidency.
Last but not least, the text-messaging, Blackberry-toting Obama has assumed the mantle of being the first true “e-president.”
In short, those who see the incoming administration as a watermark in American politics have plenty of evidence on their side. For general reasons, though, any inauguration qualifies as a big event in our civic lives.
When the president-elect swears an oath to uphold the Constitution, that indispensable document that completes what the Declaration of Independence started, it should remind us of the ideas that lit the spark so many years ago. We live in a society founded upon the rule of law, due process and the freedom to make one’s own way. We inaugurate a president instead of crowning a monarch or bowing down to a regime.
So, to the eastern New Mexico and Texas Panhandle residents traveling to Washington and to everyone else, enjoy this moment in history. And remember the living history of liberty that brought us to it.