I like plays on words. Take the title of this blog, for example. From all the hype, the media blitz, the crush of millions who came to Washington for the inaugural festivities, it appears true that at the moment Obama is Washington. People in the hundreds of thousands came to that great city last week because they wanted to experience the confirmation of his ascendancy to the highest office in our land and, at least in terms of sheer influence and power, in the world. So it is true, at least for this honeymoon period of his new presidency, that Barack Obama is Washington.
Have you seen the January 26 New Yorker cover, which showcases Barack Obama as George Washington, complete with wig and the costume Washington wears as he appears on the US one dollar bill? The shocker when you first see the cover is that, well, Obama looks like he could be Washington. He is already being lauded by some as nothing less than the father of a new country, the US of the post-Bush era, which in many people's minds is in fact a new nation. It is the first time we are led by an African American. And the challenges facing this President are unprecedented, at least when considered collectively as the bundle of woe they are.
He is, after all, charting new territory. Possible nationalization of US banks? New policies in almost every direction, from environmental issues to health care to care for military families to education to social security to Wall Street...our first President--in an era unimagined by even the farsighted Washington and his colleagues--to be faced with this particular territory to be tamed.
And there is, too, the underlying irony that Washington himself owned slaves. That the White House was built with slave labor. That First Lady Michelle Obama is the descendant of slaves. It could be said that the tables have turned. But I disagree. This is not replacing one ruling class with another, but rather the expansion of leadership to those who are most qualified, regardless of their race, no matter their heritage.
Yes, Obama may indeed be our Washington. Seems fitting that the only quotation he included in his inaugural address, though words of Thomas Paine, were noted by Obama as important because Washington directed they be read to his downtrodden troops as they prepared to cross the Delaware River in the Revolutionary War.
And these times are revolutionary, though in entirely different ways. The revolution of most immediacy to us all is one of technology, which has changed the way we live and work and, yes, the way we elect our President. Obama is the product of just such a revolution, engineered with the kind of precision and skill that any Commander in Chief would be proud of.
Obama is Washington? Perhaps. One thing's sure. He's got us all talking.