Columns, Opinion

SZAFRANSKI: Drawn to watch called to serve

Last Tuesday marked the end of an error, I mean an era, and the beginning of a new one. Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States, capping what had been a long and often contentious journey that began nearly two years ago.

Huddling around televisions at a Kenmore Square restaurant, the event took on a heavily communal feeling. This was an experience that Americans felt compelled to witness and stopped wherever they could and saw it together. Throughout America and the world, family, friends and strangers gathered before their televisions either at home, at work or at leisure to watch the ceremony. People gathered in Chicago, Baghdad, Times Square and Kenya. This is, of course, in addition to the millions who descended upon the District of Columbia for the event.

Following the oath, Obama gave his address, speaking in sweeping but broad strokes. This is not criticism, because it is important to remember the purpose of an inaugural address: to bring the nation together. Former President Franklin Roosevelt reassured anxious Americans facing eviction, hunger and loss of dignity. Former President Abraham Lincoln called for the nation to remain together on the eve of the Civil War.

Obama’s speech did not attack former President George W. Bush, directly, and in fact, praised his service and transition assistance. However, Bush’s political legacy and his policies were taken to task. Obama announced, in his most critical rebuke, which doubled as his clearest policy goal, that America would not be forced to choose between its safety and its ideals. Unfortunately, indifference to the Constitution, always in the name of our security, was a hallmark of the Bush administration.’

Perhaps the most poignant rebuke was meant for all of us. In calling Americans to service, Obama laid blame at the feet of all Americans whose behavior, consumerism or otherwise lesser qualities contributed to this economic meltdown and whatever social malaise that has accompanied it.

For far too long, Americans have ignored the signs of decay in society. However, the problems are not so easily described and the solutions not so tritely conceived as putting more God in government and more prayer in schools.

Still, I think Obama has the right idea. The call to service in our nation is not exclusive to actions as lofty as joining the Peace Corps, as brave as military service, as complex as government work, or as asinine and empty as splurging at the mall. It can come, however clich’eacute;d, as treating others as you would want to be treated. It can be as basic as participating in the civic arena, starting with voting. It can come when you make yourself better informed on the issues, not just on a national level, but on the city and state level too. Through these and other means, we can better our nation and ourselves and live up to being, in the words of our new president, ‘the ones we’ve been waiting for.’

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