Watching televison coverage of Barack Obama setting out on his historic railway journey to Washington on Saturday was a bit like watching Ulysses riding off into battle. The days ahead will undoubtedly be difficult and dangerous, but, cheers from adoring crowds shivering in the cold alongside these train tracks dispelled some of that fear and distilled it into excitement and promise. One tv news reporter, describing the thousands of people lining the route, remarked that they had come to "wish this man Godspeed." I've always liked this saying. According to Wikipedia, it's a 13th century "expression of respect and good will addressed to someone about to embark on a journey or daring endeavor." It's particularly appropriate to this occasion for the task before the 44th President of the United States is certainly one daring endeavor, a pilgrimage toward the re-creation of our nation.
Enormous expectations are heaped on the shoulders of this new administration-putting the brakes on the downfall of our economy, stabilizing perilous foreign relations, rebuilding domestic policy and programs, all while bringing social and racial cohesion to the nation. While I have no illusions that one man can undo the damage that has been done in the past eight (or more) years, I have hopes that he can make a good beginning at the process.
Obama's charismatic manner of speaking, which is both erudite yet down to earth, is greatly touted. Much is also made of his ability to "fire people up," stir people to action, inspire them to think and act in new ways. He certainly capitalized on this talent during his campaign, and continues to do so in these days leading up to his inaugaration. I believe this ability is one of his greatest strengths as a leader, and will prove to be the most powerful tool he has in helping to restore the United States of America. As the greatest teachers, team coaches, conductors. and CEO's learned long ago, a leader is nothing without the support, respect, and dedication of his students, players, and employees. An organization is worthless without the support, respect, and dedciation of its members. A country is lost without the support, respect, and loyalty of its citizens.
Obama's "job one" (at least on an emotional level) appears to be inspring this belief in the American people, this conviction that our country can be great once again, can "fulfill the promise of its founding fathers," and that we can, one and all, live to reap the benefits. It's more than just words, as any coach who has faced a losing team at half-time will tell you. Giving people belief in the ability of a positive outcome gives them the power to make it happen.
Listening to Obama speak on Saturday, listening to him exhort us all to come together in a sense of common purpose, inviting us to be part of his place in history, urging us to embrace our "power to make the world new," it felt as if he were wishing us Godspeed in return. For aren't we all about to set out on this journey together, run onto this playing field with banners flying, march into battle with weapons at the ready?
Godspeed, my fellow citizens.
Godspeed, Mr. President.
crossposted in the Carnival of Family Life at Colloquium