Saturday, January 17, 2009


It is time, the always readable Peggy Noonan writes, to suspend disbelief. Barack Obama is really happening. What’s more, this unbelievable event gives us all a chance, a sliver of a chance, to reshape our country, to put aside the rancor, the meanness that has infected our dialogue for too long. Yes, coming together is the bromide of every political campaign, but Barack Obama really believes it. He is the most sincere, most genuine, most persuasive president-elect I have ever seen. He is either the real McCoy or the greatest con artist this country has ever seen. I vote for McCoy, because it is also time to suspend cynicism.

It is also time to pray. The country is in great trouble. It doesn’t look that way at first glance. Bread lines or soup kitchens are hardly a common sight, as they were in the Great Depression. But Wall Street has seen a few suicides, and millions of people are out of work. Mortgage foreclosures are epidemic, and other shoes (commercial real estate, credit cards, car loans) have yet to fall. The patient’s condition is serious, and we need a seriously capable leader, and I think we may have one starting Tuesday.

Much is made of Franklin Roosevelt’s heroics in the 1930s, and he does deserve full credit for making people think they were better off while the unemployment rate kept climbing. My parents, life-long Democrats, believed in FDR and bought into the New Deal and the WPA and all the rest. Today it’s easy to be cynical about Roosevelt, but consider this: Let’s say that nothing he could have done would have pulled us out of the Depression in the 30s (my view, as it happens). Now, would the public have been any happier without all those fireside chats and soaring speeches? Or would revolution have been in the air? There is much to be said for an inspirational leader. If the leader is also wise (like, say, Washington or Lincoln or Churchill), so much the better.

There is also much to be said for a leader who is unflappable in a crisis. We need a president who will deal with a global financial meltdown the way Captain Sullenberger dealt with losing both engines of his A320 – calmly, professionally. Barack Obama is one cool cat, as they used to say ages ago, and it is impossible to imagine him losing his composure when it is most needed.

I am also naturally drawn to Obama because he is a man of words, a gifted writer and orator. When was the last time we had a president who treated the language with respect, who delivered sentences and phrases and whole paragraphs as if they were music? Yes, he has a speechwriter, but Obama will be the master of the Oval Office rhetoric, and he will craft the structure and vocabulary and cadence of what he delivers.

So, Peggy, I will gladly suspend disbelief Tuesday. More than that, I will watch the pageantry with a sense of awe and a prayer that, no matter how high the expectations surrounding Barack Obama, he will exceed them.