Our Gift to the World
No, I'm not talking about Barack Obama. I'm talking about the Presidential Inauguration. As someone who has helped manage the last two Inaugurals, and went to Clinton's second, I can tell you that we spend a lot of time concerned with all the balls, concerts and gala events that coincide with any Presidential Inauguration. While it has never cost $170 million before, the spectacle and events are all part of the process, as well they should be. The Inauguration is a time for people to come together and celebrate America's promise.
As with so much else, though, we spend more time concerning ourselves with which celebrities will be on hand or what the First Lady will be wearing rather than paying close attention to just how significant a moment the Inauguration really is - not just for us as Americans but for the world. The events are nice, but say so very little about us as a nation. They have their place but have little lasting meaning. They are for the few, but what happens at the Capitol is for all of us.
We need to think bigger about this historic day and drill down into what really matters. At the risk of sounding dramatic, what happens in this country every four years on January 20th, is truly our gift to humanity. The peaceful, dignified transition of executive authority from one popularly elected head of state to another is an American creation. It had never occurred before until Washington handed the reins of power over to Adams in 1797. Never mind the fact that the office Adams once held has grown to be the most powerful in world history. That moment, when the President-elect places his hand on the Bible and swears to uphold the Constitution remains democracy's proof of concept for the world to see.
The election is only part of the process. The Inauguration is the culmination. If an elected leader never takes office, the will of the people has no effect.
Not impressed yet? Don't feel that swell of pride? Consider that after the swearing-in ceremony the former President and the new President walk down the East Front steps of the Capitol. One man salutes the other. The outgoing President boards a Marine helicopter and leaves Washington. He not only willingly hands over power, but in an additional gesture, sending a powerful message to his people and the world, the former president leaves town. It is symbolic really. But the importance of that act is vital to the transition of one independent administration to another. The people's choice then stands on his own as Head of State. For me, that is the most powerful moment of the day.
If these trying times have given any doubt to Americans about the stability, strength and vitality of our Republic, let the Inauguration serve as a reminder of both our blessings and our legacy. Even without Obama's highly anticipated Inaugural Address, it is a moment that should make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. If you watch intently enough; if you lose yourself in the moment - for an instant - you can almost feel the Presidency on your own shoulders. You can feel the rush of history around you. You can experience what it is like to have the power to lead.
In the days and weeks ahead, we all should listen for the echo of that special moment on the West Front of the Capitol. We should find that moment; that moment that reaffirms the principals of our Republic, that transforms one man into an icon and that makes us believe in the greatest of possibilities for our own lives. That's more thrilling than any parade, concert, or overcrowded Inaugural Ball. That's our gift to the world.