I remember the vivid days of possibility that follow a presidential victory. I happened to be in the Roosevelt Room in January 2001 just as the portrait of Teddy Roosevelt, heroic on horseback, was moved over the fireplace, where it hangs during Republican administrations. And I know someone will be watching when Franklin Roosevelt is moved back to the place of honor, feeling the same hope and burden that I felt.
There is a tremendous sense of history and responsibility that comes with serving in the White House. You gain an appreciation for the conflicted choices others have faced -- and for the untamed role of history in frustrating the best of plans. It becomes easier to understand a president's challenges, and harder to question his motives. Ultimately, I believe that every president, and the staff he hires, feels the duty to serve a single national interest. And ultimately we need our presidents to succeed, not to fail for our own satisfaction or vindication.
This presidency in particular should be a source of pride even for those who do not share its priorities. An African-American will take the oath of office blocks from where slaves were once housed in pens and sold for profit. He will sleep in a house built in part by slave labor, near the room where Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation with firm hand. He will host dinners where Teddy Roosevelt in 1901 entertained the first African-American as a guest; command a military that was not officially integrated until 1948. Every event, every act, will complete a cycle of history. It will be the most dramatic possible demonstration that the promise of America -- so long deferred -- is not a lie.
I suspect I will have many substantive criticisms of the new administration, beginning soon enough. Today I have only one message for Barack Obama, who will be our president, my president: Hail to the Chief.
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