My first presidential election was 1960 and I proudly cast my ballot for John F. Kennedy. It was a transforming election; JFK was the first Catholic elected President of the U.S. He brought class to Washington. And although he was taken from us too soon to have a major, direct impact on national policy and culture, Lyndon Johnson was successful in bringing about much of what Kennedy had laid out, most notably the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which led to a changing of the demographics of American voters and helped establish the framework that made possible the outcome of the 2008 election.
Today is the beginning of another new era, the result of last November's election. Today was President Barack Obama's inauguration. He is the first person of color to hold the highest office in the land. And it has been a very emotional day. Not just for me but, apparently, for most Americans. Every seasoned commentator I have heard on TV today has said that there never has been an inauguration like this one. The last estimate I heard was that there were about 1.9 million people attending the event in Washington. There was laughter and tears. It must have been the biggest party ever seen in this country.
Obama's inaugural address was brilliant. To use a phrase I think I first uttered after hearing JFK address the American people on January 20, 1961, we now have a President who is both literate and literary. But I truly believe the changes that are coming are more than just in the improvement of the language and style of our new leader. While skeptical when he announced his candidacy 2 years ago, I have come to believe that Obama is a man of substance, in his view of governing, his policy preferences and his temperament.
In spite of the derision of his early work in community organizing by partisan opponents, it is that experience that taught him to listen and to trust people to give back to their country. As editor of the Harvard Law Review, the young Obama could have clerked for a Supreme Court justice or had his choice of jobs in prestigious law firms when he graduated from law school. But he chose to go back to Chicago and work with the community; he believed in people and he worked to convince them that they could empower themselves. When he stands up there and tells the crowds, "this is all about you", I believe him. He has walked that walk.
So I am looking forward to the next 8 years as we work our way out of the economic morass that Obama has inherited. I am looking forward to again having leaders who listen and who want this country to earn the friendship and respect of people and leaders from around the world. I know we are better than the public face of the outgoing administration. I am confident that Barack Obama will steadily lead us in a renewal of all that is good about America. Amen!