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The Swearing in of the 44th

January 21, 2009

People are obsessed with Barack Obama. You would have seen this on the streets of Washington yesterday. Vendors were out in force. Barack Obama t-shirts, buttons, flags, blankets, posters, jean jackets…You name it, you could buy it. One t-shirt likened the inauguration of the new president to the second coming of christ. “And he shall be called Barack Obama,” the gold shirt read. Yes, the inaugruation of the first African American president was quite an event.

For me, it started early — about 2am. Not because I wanted to stay up. Even if I wanted to sleep, there was no way I would get a wink. Those fortunate enough to live on Capitol Hill were treated to the sounds of sirens blaring all night. It was like the apocalyspe.

After dozing in and out of sleep, I rolled out of bed at 7am, and set off. After hours of walking through below freezing weather, I arrived on the steps of the Lincoln memorial. In an age of deep divides, the new President spoke of unity of purpose and perseverance in the face or formidable challenges.

Early in his speech, President Obama noted: “the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.” He spoke of “ending petty grievances” and “worn out dogmas.” Republicans and democrats alike could agree with his call to “make government work.”

As I listened to the new president give his speech, I was reminded why Barack Obama inspired me and hundreds of millions of others. Barack Obama challenged me to think differently about politics. I was 17 when George W. Bush was sworn into office. Despite avowing to work across the aisle, I watched President Bush use deeply partisan means to achieve political objectives. The Democrats were certainly culpable of the same divisive tactics. I grew to believe that politics was about ramming your side’s agenda through Congress.

But, moving to Washington and has helped me realize that politics is the art of compromise. Working amongst colleagues with different perspectives has helped me realize how, despite the difficulties of working together, collaborative policy-making can produce better legislation. Barack Obama’s inaugural speech embodied this unity. The challenge – will President’s Obama’s call for post-partisanship prove demonstrable enough to heal a divided country? I believe so. But, yesterday he only set the goal. It’s up to us to help meet it.

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