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One of the Greatest Ceremonies in the World

One of the Greatest Ceremonies in the World

By Ed Koch - January 20, 2009

One of the greatest ceremonies in the world - the peaceful passing of the torch of liberty and government from one president, George W. Bush, to a new president, Barack Obama - will take place on January 20th. I'll be watching it on television from my office in Manhattan. Millions of Americans across the land will be similarly ensconced in home or office, while up to three million Americans will be applauding the event in DC itself.

Barack Obama, the man with the strange name, of brilliant intellect, flashing smile and brown complexion, will be sworn into office. His remarkable victory over Hillary Clinton, the woman who seemed assured of victory in the Democratic Party, and his extraordinarily wide victory over a war hero, John McCain, in a country where African-Americans are 13 percent of the population and whites are about 76 percent of the balance and all the pundits were commenting on the Bradley effect (people telling pollsters they were voting for a minority race candidate and lying about it out of fear or shame), with the country learning after the votes were counted there was no Bradley effect, and that the people had no fear, no shame and voted their spoken conscience.

What a great and extraordinary outcome. What a great country. What a great people. And what a great man who won. He also surprised many of us all in his post election political comments and governmental decisions. He conveyed his humility and intelligence with his statements and appointments. He took as his model Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator who, 145 years ago, kept the nation together through leadership exhibited in personality and policies. How true it was when said by Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, "Now he belongs to the ages." We who line the streets of Washington D.C. or are watching the swearing-in on television are participating in the crowning achievement of the Lincoln legacy: the swearing in of an African-American as President of the United States.

Every president, including every new chief executive in government, whether it be mayor, governor or president, is entitled, after the election, to and generally receives support of the electorate across party lines and is deemed entitled to a reasonable time of generous political support to settle in and get the city, state or national government off to a good start. This is particularly essential when the city, state or central government is, as is now the case, in a precarious state. The U.S. is hovering at the edge of what we once experienced about 80 years ago - the Great Depression. Once in that economic state, it took nearly ten years and World War II for us to come out of that economic collapse.

Thank God we have not yet and hopefully never will enter that state of economic calamity, but we must never forget the danger is there. We have chosen our leader to lead us across the desert and now we must help him with our political support and for those who believe in the Almighty, our prayers as well and for those who don't, their good wishes.

The Obama presidency in its first two years at least should not be burdened in fighting battles because of simple partisan political opposition. Of course, the Republican Party has the right and obligation to seek to mold with the majority Democratic Party the legislation that will be offered by the Obama administration to deal with the economic crisis and have input into the many proposals that will now be offered to reform Social Security, Medicare, taxes, foreign policies, e.g., withdrawing troops from Iraq and, I hope, from Afghanistan as well. The Left Wing of the Democratic Party, primarily responsible for Obama's election, should keep their support strong during these days of economic difficulties requiring a moderate course of action.

It is important that President Obama retain his connection with the people of this country. He thinks he can do it through his Blackberry which his close advisers appear to want to take away from him, so that no one can contact him directly, and thereby deprive him of the opportunity on his own to keep contact with the outside world on the world wide web. Such access, he and we are told, threatens security. They should find a way to deal with the security issue without cutting his ties with the world by limiting all access to ideas and requiring that everyone and everything come through a gatekeeper, the chief of staff.

I recall how when I said I waited to go to my inaugural as Mayor of New York from my home in Greenwich Village by getting on a public bus, I was told, no, it's too dangerous. I overruled the security forces and boarded a bus. I was surprised to see only one person on it who appeared to be a homeless man. I later learned it was a special bus prepared for me to take and that the "homeless person" was a NYPD detective. During my three terms as mayor, I frustrated the well-meaning security operatives by taking many walking tours into neighborhoods, holding town hall meetings all over the city and holding up to seven news conferences a day for reporters, all to make sure I never lost contact with the people. President Obama, I am sure, will find a way to maintain that absolutely necessary contact with the people.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, surely know their goal in life, that their "four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," has been achieved.

God Bless America.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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