Saturday, January 17, 2009

USA Presidential Inauguration 2009 Memo - Essay: The Inauguration of Barack Obama and the New American Spirit

President-elect Barack Obama addresses a crowd of Americans today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the cradle of American liberty, before embarking on a historic train ride to Washington, D.C., where he will be sworn-in as the 44th President of the United States of America on Tuesday, January 20. Tuesday morning America renews itself, not devoid of its history, but rather determined to create a more perfect union. [Photo: courtesy of The New York Times.]

On Tuesday morning, January 20, Barack Obama -- a 47-year old man who was born of an African father from Kenya who deserted his son shortly after he was born and a white mother from Kansas in America's heartland who raised her son alone with the help of her parents, a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, a former community organizer in Chicago's South Side neighborhood and a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago, and a former member of the Illinois State Legislature and most recently a United States Senator -- will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.

Mr. Obama joins only 43 other men who've held the nation's highest office since the United States won its independence through lots of guts and the shedding of much blood. Take a minute and think about that -- just 43 men, and soon 44, -- that's certainly an elite club. And yes, no woman yet. But that's coming as well -- and nearly did in 2008 with Hillary Clinton.

President-elect Obama stands out most obviously among those other 43 men to be elected President because he's the only soon to be member of that elite club who has black skin.

Barack Obama adopted Illinois as his hometown after living as a child and teenager in places as varied as Kansas, Hawaii and Indonesia. And it isn't lost on him or us, and shouldn't be on any American, that is was another Senator and President from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, who signed the emancipation proclamation, which ended America's most cardinal of cardinal sins -- black slavery.

But Barack Obama is far from only being the first a "black" President. He's a man of dual ethnicity and multiple cultural backgrounds and experiences. Some years ago people laughed at (and many criticized) the great professional golfer Tiger Woods when he used the word "Cablinasian" to describe his ethnic makeup. Tiger created the word himself, a combination of Caucasian, Black, American Indian and Asian, which are all parts of his ethnic makeup. He was trying to make a personal and public point that his whole was much more than what others could see.

But the fact is, multi-ethnicity is becoming the new normal in America. The melting pot has and is increasingly becoming more of a blender. Americans aged about 30 and younger don't even consider race as a significant attribute like generations of older Americans have, except to celebrate it as unique to one another. And older Americans, many who have children in mixed marriages and grandchildren who like Tiger Woods are multi-ethnic, in most cases no longer looks at a person's ethnic background as something that should limit them or make the any different they they themselves are.

Sure, racism still exists in the U.S., as does discrimination. But it's truly on the way out. When those Americans who are in there late teens and twenties today are running things in 20-25 years, imagine how even much more irrelevant a person's race and ethnic background will be in terms of equal treatment and opportunity.

And 20-25 years from now those of us still living will likely look back on the candidacy and Presidency of Barack Obama as being the seminal 21rst century watershed event to a fully ethnically-integrated America two decades hence, if not sooner.

President-elect Barack Obama will place his hand on a bible used by Abraham Lincoln on what promises to be a very cold Washington, D.C. morning on Tuesday, January 20, taking the oath of office to lead a country with serious challenges. But America also has abundant opportunities -- some we can already see and others we've yet to discover.

We tend to agree with President-elect Obama's chief of staff, former Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who has been delighting in a new saying he created: "A crisis (as in economic and financial) is a terrible thing to waste." What Rahm Emanuel, a scrappy political operative from Chicago, Illinois, basically means is that sometimes it is only in a crisis that change and new, better things (in this case a better America) can come about. Abraham Lincoln, a fellow man from Illinois, knew this well. He used a divisive and bloody crisis, the Civil War, to, despite objections from advisers and many of the pundits of his day, to ultimately end America's stain -- slavery.

The new President faces a U.S. economy in full free-fall. Over 1 million Americans lost their jobs in just November and December of 2008 alone. Despite injecting hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the financial and credit markets, those markets are still frozen for all intents and purposes. And, even if the markets were to thaw tomorrow, most Americans are in no position to borrow money to buy a home, new car or even in many cases a washing machine.

Additionally, housing foreclosures continue to grow. Business bankruptcies are on the rise. And Americans are worried about the future more so than they have been in many decades.

Barack Obama isn't the messiah. And it's important Americans remember this. It will take time to turn the U.S. economy around. There will be false starts and outright failures.

It also will take time to extract America's fighting men and woman from Iraq, even though the new President is committed to doing so. Those on the left who supported Barack Obama, as well as those on the right who didn't, need to give him, and America, time. By this we don't mean idle time. That's not on Barack Obama's agenda. He will, and already has, hit the ground running, even before officially becoming President.

What we mean is that Americans of all types and stripes need to understand this isn't the new President's mess. It's a mess made by many, including in some ways all Americans. And it will take many -- all of us in one way or another -- to make it better.

But there is a new spirit blowing across America this Saturday afternoon. This new spirit could be felt at the train station in Pennsylvania where President-elect Obama, incoming first lady Michelle Obama, and Vice-President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill took off for their historic train trip from the cradle of American liberty on to Washington, D.C.

This new American spirit could be felt in the Vice-President-elect's hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, where at an Amtrak station that for 36 years as a U.S. Senator Joe Biden left from each weekday morning and returned to after doing Senate business in Washington, D.C. because after losing his wife in a car accident and becoming a single father he did what he had to do, which was come home each night to his sons. Today at the Amtrak station President-elect Obama mentioned that aspect of Biden's life. It's a bond of shared loss the two men share, one having lost his mother way to soon in her life, the other having lost his first wife far too soon in her life.

The new spirit blowing across America was again felt a short time later when the train carrying the Obama's and Biden's, along with about 50 Americans from all walks of life chosen to make the train trip in an historic rail care with the incoming President, pulled into Baltimore, Maryland, where one of the most important battles of the War of Independence was fought, the last stop before Washington, D.C. for the incoming President. At least 30,000 people waited for hours in bone-chilling 11-degree weather in front of Baltimore's City Hall to hear the President-elect speak. And he did -- sounding the themes of unity, change, shared responsibility and hope.

As we write this piece, the train is do to pull into the train station in Washington, D.C., America's capital city which is named after America's first President, a great soldier and statesman, but also a slaveholder, named George Washington.

The streets of D.C. are already packed with hundreds of thousands of visitors in preparation for Tuesday's inaugural ceremony -- and its just Saturday. Cars bearing license plates from Utah, Montana, Illinois, Indiana line the streets. People are driving in (thanks to the drop in the price of gasoline), flying in, riding the train and the bus to the nation's capital.

They may be coming from all over, and getting to Washington, D.C. by different means of transportation, but these Americans all have one thing in common -- hope and optimism for a better tomorrow.

And a better tomorrow will come. It will come for the 12-year old African American child who on Tuesday morning will see a man with the same skin color as he has being sworn-in as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. It will come for the unemployed machinist, who despite knowing he shouldn't drove from Detroit to Washington, D.C. because of the cost, he did anyway because he too wants to help keep hope alive. It will come for the 18-year old high school senior from California who despite getting excepted into the prestigious University of California at Berkeley campus has no idea how she will pay for her tuition and other expenses because dad lost his job and mom's hours have been reduced because of the recession.

It won't come easy. But then few good things seldom to. But a new spirit is blowing across the land. Eight years is a long time for a President in the U.S. We saw that even in the case of Bill Clinton, who left office in 2001 with a rather high popularity rating. But the eight years of the Bush Administration has been particularly long, and troubling to many, even to many of the most loyal Republicans who supported him. One can feel a collective spirit of "its time for a change" among many Republicans in the nation's capital, as well as throughout America.

What needs to be unleashed once again in America is its unique entrepreneurial spirit. Human and financial capital. Ideas once again turned into new products. Education once again made supreme.

The U.S. has led in just about every human and technological revolution since it went from a colony to a nation -- agriculture, food and fiber, automobiles, architecture and building, computers, the Internet. And each time Americans have come through the strongest and most innovative has been after a period of malaise, bad economic times and war.

During and after World War II America's farmers created the world's premiere agricultural system, and entrepreneurs and innovators revolutionized food processing and retailing.

With his New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, tinkered with idea after idea and program after program. Americans were put to work. New industries were created. Idle industries like automotive plants were turned into assembly lines for the production of trucks, tanks and other vehicles to be used in the war and to keep Europe free after the war. Spirits were raised.

No one really knows for sure Roosevelt's New Deal is what got the U.S. out of the Great Depression, but most believe without it and all of its programs, despair just might have defeated survival, which then led to progress. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the New Deal was that it raised the American (and Americans) spirit.

It was following World War II and then the Korean War that a Republican President, Former Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower pushed through legislation in which America spent tens of billions in today's dollars creating what was billed as the 20th century U.S. infrastructure -- new interstate highways, roads, bridges, tunnels and more. This building prepared the way for American industry to create jobs in the private sector.

The 1950's and 1960's saw changes and innovations earlier generations thought impossible -- the creation of the middle class, home ownership for the masses, personal transportation as the norm, a huge boost in college education and social security and Medicare, which has allowed millions of older Americans to live lives of dignity.

Later on, Americans invented the microchip and the personal computer. Then the Internet and World Wide Web. The nation has been on the forefront in science, medicine -- and so much more.

Each time before a new wave of American innovation there have been dark clouds -- war, recession, even depression But then a new, fresh breeze in the form of a renewed American spirit somehow kicks up from throughout the land. Today is and should be no different. It will get worse before it gets better. But so what -- that's always been the case.

The challenge and goal now, for both the new Obama Administration and Congress, for the American people and American business, is to learn from our mistakes over the last decade. To change for the better. To do what we've always done best -- innovate, experiment, explore. We should not fear experimenting, failing, then trying something new. And we should allow the new Administration that same option, to do just as Franklin Roosevelt did with his New Deal.

The way that airline pilot took his plane down in New York's Hudson River the other day, a confident, solid, soft landing, in which every one of the about 150 passengers on the plane survived, is a pretty good object lesson for America beginning on the morning of January 20.

Like that pilot, we need not fear taking a chance. Nor should we not allow the new President to take some chances. In the pilot's case he took a chance on landing the plane, which was disabled because birds flew into its jet engines, in the Hudson River in a way most experts have called audacious and amazing. Yet at the same time, like that pilot with his hand on the airplane's stick, we must be confident -- confident in America's future because of its past. Like the pilot we also must be steady and resolute -- things will not get better overnight.

There's a new spirit blowing across America as the 44th President of the United States prepares to take office on Tuesday morning. You can feel this new American sprit blowing across the Potomac in Washington, D.C., across the great lakes in the Midwest, and in big cities and small towns throughout America. Call it hope. Call it optimism. Call it the American spirit.

It's the incoming President's job, and even more important it's the duty of all Americans, to make sure this new American spirit is harnessed -- that it becomes a new American spirit we capture and use and don't let go of until we've made the country a more perfect union in all of the many ways it can become, just as those before us have tried to do.

[Natural~Specialty Foods Memo (NSFM) Editor's Note: Beginning today, Saturday, January 18, until Tuesday, January 20, Inauguration Day 2009, we will be writing and publishing various stories, and making related posts, about the new American President, with a particular focus on how the new Administration will impact and interact with the food and grocery industry, including from a public policy standpoint. Stay tuned.]

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