Daily Archives: January 20, 2009

Obama: An Era of Responsibility

Well, I chased the treadmill again this morning. Probably could have run outside. At 5 a.m. the wind chill was five degrees above zero. Not bad. But as I mentioned last week, I’m becoming more and more cautious about slipping and falling on the ice. Another concession to getting older.

But it gave me the opportunity to see the early TV reports of people heading to watch the inauguration. By 3 a.m. the queue was already formed around the Mall — with maybe a 100,000 people or more. And with an estimated 2 million or more still on the way. Something tells me that throughout the day this is going to be an event — a celebration — unlike anything we’ve seen in this country. And we’re all connected, via nonstop TV, Twitter, Facebook, text messages, cellphone photos and so on.

And that got me thinking about a couple things.

First, the inauguration of most (all?) presidents, particularly for the first term, is accompanied by a sense of excitement, enthusiasm, optimism and hope. And I believe that’s even more true today — as Obama becomes the 44th president. Given the major problems we have in this country and around the world, can any thinking person really not want him to succeed? Like most in this country, I tend to be politically in the middle: conservative on some issues, liberal on others. I voted for Bush the first time around; Kerry the second. I’m hopeful — and optimistic — that Obama will succeed. And I’m not alone, as indicated by the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll and reported in The Washington Post, “Nation’s Hopes High for Obama, Poll Shows.”

Second, this is the second generational shift in government and politics that I’ve seen in my lifetime. The first came with John Kennedy in 1961. The second comes today at noon with Barack Obama. Sure, there will be baby boomers in key positions in government, business and education for years to come. Yet as George Bush — among the first wave of the millions of baby boomers who are heading to retirement in the next few years — exits the White House, leadership moves now to a new generation. The baby boomers — myself included — should have done a better job in passing the baton.

Third, by most accounts Obama is going to talk today about a “new era of responsibility.” And that strikes me as absolutely the right message — and a compelling one. For the first 10 years or so of my business career I was a speechwriter. So I know how muddled most talks and presentations can become — particularly when they are passed around the corner offices and everyone feels that his or her personal stature is diminished unless changes are made. Something tells me that isn’t going to happen today. I’ve read that Obama has written most of the speech himself. And the rest was most likely crafted by his 27-year-old speechwriter, Jon Favreau. Also, view it as a positive that we haven’t reached the point where someone suggests we need PowerPoint for these occasions.

My advice. Don’t get bogged down in detail. Build on the spirit of optimism. Give us a few solid reasons that allow us to be hopeful. And stick to one theme: “a new era of responsibility.”

Hey. It worked for Jack Kennedy: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”