Inauguration Day was a unique moment of national bonding.

I was there, amid the estimated crowd of 2 million jubilant citizens celebrating this history-making day.

Only an unrepentant cynic would dismiss the gushing goodwill the crowd offered to the new president. We endured the bitter cold for endless hours so we could accept President Obama’s promise of hope, change and inspired renewal — and so we could bear personal witness to history.

By becoming president, Obama made two historic leaps.

As the first American president who is black, he symbolized the culmination of centuries of struggle for full inclusion. Coming the day after the annual holiday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Obama’s inaugural led a large number of black Americans and others to believe that his election represents the realization of King’s dream of racial equality.

While I would not go that far, given the ongoing and perhaps worsening racial disparities, certainly Obama’s ascendancy to the highest office in the nation represents a page being turned. For many elderly black people in the crowd who tasted, as Obama noted, the “bitter swill” of segregation, such progress is especially undeniable.

The second, less discussed leap, was Obama’s success in ending the long era of conservatism and Republican Party rule. Though cautious in his words, his inaugural speech issued a strong rebuke of the Bush-Cheney policies.

When Obama spoke of “gathering clouds and raging storms,” he essentially was defining the consequences of the last administration.

When he stated that it was time to replace “hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord,” he was repudiating the governing strategy of the last eight years.

When he said, “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” and vowed that “we will not give them up for expedience’s sake,” he indicted outgoing President Bush and departing Vice President Cheney for countenancing torture in our name.

The joy in the inaugural crowd was not only tied to Obama’s elevation, but to the long-awaited farewell of Bush and Cheney. You could sense it, unmistakably, when the crowd jeered boisterously as Bush boarded his helicopter and flew off into retirement.

Whether Obama wants to go down the road of more liberal and progressive policies or not, much of his base is already there. The celebrants on the mall, and the bulk of the nearly 67 million who voted for him, want change and seek a new direction.

Black Americans claim a special relationship with Obama. And inevitably, there will be tensions between blacks and non-blacks over the nature and focus of his political agenda.

For blacks, it will be important to realize that Obama was elected to represent all Americans.

For whites, it will be important to realize black Americans and other marginalized and underrepresented groups are part of this country, too.

But on this day, there was harmony in the air and exultation on the ground. For those who attended the inaugural events, and the tens of millions around the country who celebrated wherever they happened to be, the nation stepped forward together, as one.

That, too, was a leap.

Clarence Lusane is an associate professor at American University in the School of International Service. He can be reached at

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Forty years ago the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against "hostile environmental modification techniques...

The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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