Saturday, January 17, 2009

Waiting for Tuesday

Tonight the family and I were talking about the excitement we're feeling in anticipation of Tuesday's Inauguration. I told Rachel, who's just turned thirteen, that she's lucky to be at an age where she can appreciate an event that is surely one of the most important moments in American history. Whatever you may think about our President-elect, whether you were a supporter of his before the election, you'll have to admit -- we're about to witness a true turning point, a once-in-a-lifetime event. My mother was eleven years old when FDR became president in 1933, and his time in office coincided with her coming of age, and her young adulthood. I was eight when John F. Kennedy was sworn in, too young to remember much of the day, but old enough to be impressed by my parents' awareness that his inauguration was something special -- both for their generation, and for them personally as Irish-American Catholics. On a less positive and uplifting note, I recall vividly what I was doing the day Kennedy was assassinated (I was eleven years old, attending school, and the nuns who were our teachers reacted with shock and grief when the news came over the school loudspeaker). I remember the morning I read that Nixon was resigning his office, a front-page article in the New York Times. I was twenty-two years old, and I'd cast my first vote for President less than two years earlier, for George McGovern. The feeling of elation that surged through me at the news of Nixon's decision to step down was mixed with a sense of weary relief and despair; relief that his reign of paranoia and hate was over, and despair that it had ever occurred in the first place. Even more emotionally confusing are my memories of Ronald Reagan's election, another historic moment for our country. I voted for Reagan, a fact I've had varying feelings about both at the time and since. A lifelong Democrat, I'd felt betrayed by what the Democratic party had become: it was, after all, the Democrats who got us into Vietnam (an arguable position, I admit, but one I wasn't alone in believing); it was the Democrats who'd mismanaged the economy; it was the Democrats who'd decreased America's standing in the world (with the considerable help of Richard Nixon -- but the Democrats ran two out of three branches of government, and couldn't escape responsibility for the state the country found itself in by the late 1970s); it was the Democrats who'd given us an out-of-control, overly-regulated state, with an open-ended and destructive commitment to lifetime welfare. Ronald Reagan, whatever one might think of him today, offered fresh ideas and a forward-looking, dramatic shift in American policy, forcing a reappraisal of the contract between the governed and the government. Each of these historical moments -- elections, an assassination, and a resignation -- were distinctive because they were clearly more than just a moment, they were turning points in history, and even the most historically-tone deaf of us knew this to be true at the time.

But this Tuesday, those of us who are fortunate enough to be alive at this moment, find ourselves present at a once-in-a-generation event.

This Inauguration Day will be remembered for as long as our nation exists, for so many many reasons, most of which are obvious to anyone reading this, and don't need to be repeated by me.

And we're going to be part of it, witnesses to history.

What can I say but... awesome.

What a gift to us all.

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