The Job Ahead

Posted on 23 January 2009

Dear President Barack Obama, we trust that you, Michelle and the girls are settling in nicely to your new home in Washington D.C. Now that the parades, balls and parties are over, you have a big job ahead of you, and it’s not one that we envy. Nor is it one that we know you will take likely.

The economy is in shambles, our biggest employers and most stalwart industries are collapsing before our very eyes, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to grind on, and there are a load of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who no one knows what to do with.

Yet despite all this, we can’t begin to convey the incredible optimism that many of us feel about your arrival at the White House.

We can only imagine it’s the same sense of optimism that certain previous generations felt when a new and charismatic leader has taken charge in times of despair. The legions who witnessed the inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, for example, in the midst of the Great Depression when a quarter of Americans were out of work and two million were homeless, or the vision of a young and vibrant John F. Kennedy, Jr. calling on all Americans to fight the common enemies of man — “tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself” during his inauguration in 1961, for another.

There are times when the position of president transcends the man. For better, or for worse, the figure who enters the political arena as our president at critical junctures in history often becomes the embodiment of hope — what is possible for us as individuals and a nation — and our beacon in the face of fear and uncertainty. These are the presidents whose words are recalled and recited decades down the road when we all have the benefit of hindsight.

The scores who turned out to witness your inauguration bears this notion out — and we’re not only talking about those million plus souls who made it to the Mall in Washington. We’re also talking about Sag Harbor, where the Bay Street Theatre was filled to capacity with viewers who watched the proceedings on a big screen. We’re talking about schools, where children were pulled out of class and put before the TV and small, private gatherings where people sat silent, tears in their eyes, as you took the oath of office. There was a feeling that this was important… this was not to be missed. Like the landing of the first man on the moon (another Kennedy promise), we felt we were witnessing our history as well as our future.

So to the list of emotions many are feeling this week we add another — gratitude. Gratitude that you have agreed to take on this most difficult job. It’s one that precious few in this country have ever held and even fewer today would say they want right about now. It’s gratitude that, even in the short time you’ve been on the scene, you have shown the strong and confident manner we need, the guidance we crave and the wisdom and clear vision we pray will heal the weary world.

Welcome home, Mr. President.

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