New York Post
By J. KENNETH BLACKWELL
January 20, 2009
Today--like Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and so many others before him--a new president, Barack Obama, will call on the better angels in our nature.
In an important way, though, his swearing-in will be a testament to those better angels within us.
Obama's politics don't match mine--but I delight in his history-making accomplishment nonetheless.
Two hundred and thirty-two years ago, when our nation was founded, 2 million people worldwide lived under democratic governance. Today, that number is over 2.4 billion, and America has led the way.
Granted, the history of our democracy hasn't been one of perfection, and the architects of our constitutional government did not always practice what they preached--but their foundational ideas were rock solid.
In the book "Habits of the Heart," the authors advanced the principle called moral coherence: a state achieved when an individual lines up his behavior with the values he professes to believe.
Nations, too, search for moral coherence--achieving it when their practices match their promises, the values they profess to hold.
Today, our nation's 302 million citizens comprise the most diverse democracy in all of human history, representing every race and every ethnicity from the world over. Yet still, as throughout the course of those 232 years, there are gaps between America's promise and America's practice.
These gaps represent the challenges of a pluralistic democracy, and when they are prevalent, there is moral incoherence.
As President Lincoln understood, our nation was--and is--imperfect. But it was--and is--perfectible.
Today's inauguration of Barack Obama is a milestone in our nation's struggle toward moral coherence, and it is a step toward Lincoln's "more perfect Union."
It's also proof positive that our nation is moving closer to the vision Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. articulated on behalf of millions of Americans - that individuals can be viewed by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
King wanted us, through his dream and vision, to tap into an endless dream of hope.
When coupled with our capacity to change conditions, he knew that we could close the gap between the promise of America and its performance at any point in history. King gave us more than a dream; he gave us a wakeup call. He wanted us to have the dream, catch the vision - and act on it.
And many of us did--albeit, with different worldviews and different solutions--act to move our nation toward his vision.
My grandmother helped shape my worldview. She used to tell my brother and me, "We're sending you out into the world. You're going to meet four types of people--hold-outs, sold-outs, drop-outs and all-outs."
The hold-outs, she said, are the self-doubters--they always have low expectations. The sold-outs would rather exploit humanity than enhance it. The drop-outs don't understand that the human condition, the human struggle, is sometimes painful. They don't understand that you have to go through the thunder and the lightning and the clouds and the overcast days to reach the sunshine. So they find an escape, whether it's alcoholism, drug addiction or watching soap operas all day.
The all-outs, she said, are just ordinary folk who give you 100 percent. They're not sprinters, but long-distance runners.
Obama--the president we inaugurate today--is a testimony to all the ordinary long-distance runners in America's 232-year history.
Next week, the nation will again debate our challenges and struggle with our contrasting solutions. I will challenge the president's public policy priorities and lend my voice to the loyal opposition.
Today, however, Obama's moment will have our hearts.
New York Post