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Editorial: Our hopes, Our hearts are all with thee

At 11:00 today, Barack Obama will take the oath of office as the 44th President of the United States. At that point, “the government shall rest upon his shoulders.” As will the weight of the world.

Also at that point, the new President will be forced to make a critical decision that will determine not only the direction of his administration, but his place in history, as well. Not only the First Hundred Days, but the next four years. And time immemorial.

Today at 11:00, Barack Hussein Obama will be forced to decide whether he will follow the dictates of the disparate groups, often on the fringe of society, to whom he appealed when he ran for office. Or, whether he will be the President of all the people.

As a candidate, Barack Obama pointed with great pride to his pedigree as the most liberal member of the United States Senate. As President, he must ever bear in mind that he now represents a nation equally divided between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, all of whom now look to him to lead them back from the economic abyss without stifling individual initiative, or plunging the nation into irretrievable debt.

As a candidate, Barack Obama denigrated the War in Iraq, declaring the now-successful “surge” a failure, and promising to immediately withdraw American troops. As President, he must now don the mantle of Commander in Chief, honoring the sacrifice of American troops who fought and died for Iraqi freedom, and accepting the charge to “support any friend and oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

As a candidate, Barack Obama demonstrated an insensitivity to white Americans that sometimes verged on callous, repeatedly skirting Jeremiah Wright's racist tirades and ridiculing “typical white” people who fear black crime. As President, he must rise above his own internal struggles and demand of Blacks and Whites alike a new commitment to full equality of responsibility, as well as rights.

In his paper on Lincoln's Imagination, biographer Noah Brooks told of one day being asked by the somber wartime President to quote him the lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's stirring poem, The Building of a Ship. Mr. Brooks did so, proclaiming with a flourish the famous lines:

Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!

Upon finishing the recitation, Mr. Brook's looked up to find that the President's eyes had filled with tears, his cheeks were wet and stained. According to Mr. Brooks, Mr. Lincoln did not speak for some minutes, then finally said, “It is wonderful to stir men like that.”

With many of his words, Mr. Obama has stirred men and women alike -- rich and poor, old and young, conservative and liberal, Black and White. At 11:00 today, he must decide whether his deeds, like his words, will transcend the temporal bounds of narrow interest and seek the timeless ties of national unity that alone can bind the nation together anew. And today, like Longfellow, millions of Americans say as one:

Thou, too, sail on oh Ship of State,
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears,
Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
Are all with thee, are all with thee!


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