Yesterday, our country inaugurated its 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama. Borrowing from the buzzword du jour, I’ve taken to calling the country under this new President “USA 2.0.” Kinda catchy, don’t you think?
I was at work during the Inauguration, but my colleagues and I didn’t want to miss watching the official ceremony, so we gathered in our computer training lab and watched it the big projector via CNN.com. Aside from the unexpected reboot after the Windows Vista machine hosting the video installed a critical security update, it worked like a charm.
Like the majority of Americans, I was overjoyed to see this historic day come for a number of reasons. I voted for President Obama, so was pleased to see him ascend to the office. Of course, as the first person of African heritage to earn the “highest office of the land,” he obviously represents an important step in the evolution of our country’s culture. But even more importantly, his administration represents a much needed opportunity to reboot ourselves in the eyes of the world.
What’s really special about Inauguration Day is how it brings us all together. Seldom do Americans drop our cynical political biases and just embrace our collective patriotism; aside from the annual Independence Day holiday, an Inauguration Day once every four years seems to be about the best we can muster.
I’m not going to pretend that this is the moment that racial equality has finally been realized in our country; obviously, we still have a long way to go. Regardless of the outcome of this election, the fact is that most people are acutely aware of Obama’s heritage, and that played a huge part in the process. Some voted for him exclusively because of his ethnicity, while others used it as a veiled platform for attacking his background, his associations, and his commitment to our country’s interests. No matter how we see each other, we see physical differences that have nothing to do with character, and those differences do still influence our judgments and actions. Obama certainly didn’t deserve to win the election because of his African heritage; I’m being honest, I think he actually managed to get elected in spite of it.
Our new President is young and he is an idealist, but his brand of idealism is something that’s sorely lacking in our country at the moment. Maybe it’s my doe-eyed optimism, but everything seems different this time around. From the successful campaign he ran, to his swift and decisive transition, to the dignity with which he assumed the mantle of leadership, Obama is a breath of fresh air for a country and culture that has been suffocated by a short-sighted, power-hungry, and generally ineffective administration for almost a decade.
Where Bush’s White House was walled away from the public, I see Obama’s administration taking proactive steps to reach out, both to this country’s citizens and the rest of the world. I like that he views the US as a leader, but a “nation among nations” and not a “nation above nations.” Instead of a bunch of “yes men,” he’s chosen surrounded himself with the right people to ensure an honest discourse to chart our course and make progress. Plus, he seems genuinely intelligent guy who’s already very comfortable in his new role. His charisma, ingenuity, and tech savvy are unmistakable. It feels like this country has finally found the right CEO.
I suspect that like others before him, President Obama’s campaign ambitions will be curbed by the stark reality of the responsibilities that he has just inherited. He’ll have to make tough choices with no clear winners, and his accomplishments will likely fall short of everyone’s expectations. But for now, there’s the potential that anything can happen, and that’s really exciting to me.
Finally, a shameless plug for a Microsoft product. CNN encouraged Inauguration attendees to snap as many pictures as possible and then submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Their staff is feeding the content into Microsoft PhotoSynth to create a “synth” of the moment, which is a patchwork of individual digital images stitched into a 3D model of the subject. The cool thing about this technology is that the more photos it incorporates, the more “synthy” it becomes. You can check out the current version of the synth at http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2009/44.president/inauguration/themoment/.