A rare day of unity

Published 11:11 am Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The greatness of our American democracy perhaps best is symbolized on Inauguration Day, when, a couple of months after a bitterly fought election, power is peacefully transferred from one president to the next and, in years like this one, from one political party to another.

For a day at least, all but the most partisan and bitter of Americans put aside their political differences and stand united in wishing our nation’s president well.

There will be plenty of time for partisan debate and rancor in the days, months and years ahead, so it’s appropriate that we pause for at least a day and focus on those ideals — peace and prosperity, principally — that we seek as a country and as individual Americans.

In the inauguration of Barack Obama, who was sworn in Tuesday as the 44th president of the United States, Americans could take an extra measure of pride.

A black man’s ascension to the presidency would have been unthinkable a half-century ago, when African-Americans still needed the intervention of judges and government authorities to ensure their basic civil liberties, including the right to vote.

Within the lifetimes of many who were denied those rights, black citizens not only cast their ballots freely in the election of 2008, but one of their own, with the support of tens of millions of white Americans, was elected to the highest office in the land.

That historic achievement is one to be appreciated, regardless of one’s political affiliation and value system. One can question Obama’s policies — and even oppose with fervor his agenda for change — while admiring his enormous accomplishment and wishing our country well under his leadership.

That was the prevailing spirit Tuesday among Democrats, Republicans and independents, who were challenged by their new president thusly in his inaugural address: “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly. This is the price and the promise of citizenship.”