Obama ready to tackle tasks that await him

Freedom New Mexico

Perhaps befitting the times, it was a sober, almost subdued speech, capping a ceremony that was serious and sober.

President Obama called for “a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world.” In recognition of the difficult tasks before him he called for patience and perseverance, and held out the promise that the challenges “will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.”

The elevation of the first African-American to the highest elective office in the land is genuinely historic. Now we will see how well he meets the challenges he outlined.

As is customary on such occasions, President Obama invoked the spirit of our forebears, the brave men and women who conquered and populated what was once known as the New World and defended its freedoms. As is also customary, he proclaimed an almost utopian vision of the new day dawning: “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil” and “transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of the new age.” Those who “question the scale of our ambitions” were dismissed as cynics.

To be sure, President Obama invoked the spirit of the American people and acknowledged that government alone cannot bring us to the promised land. But it was also clear he sees government as the leader, the setter of the agenda, the definer of the unity required.

This is not quite the spirit of America as it has been passed down to us. It was not government that harnessed electricity or invented the combine or invented the microchip that brought on the digital age. These and other accomplishments grew from the hard work and ambitions of individual Americans, following their own dreams, dreaming dreams their titular leaders had never imagined. It is not so much leadership that is the key to the kind of progress this great country has participated in, but freedom to dream, to act, to build, and to reap the rewards of one’s hard work and imagination.

When he argued that “our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness,” President Obama came close to understanding that it is diversity rather than unity that yields progress. We wonder if he fully grasps the importance not only of religious and ethnic diversity but diversity of hopes and dreams and preferences. All politicians call for unity, of course. But they are wisest when they do not yield to the temptation of trying to enforce it in practice.

The notion that it is not government’s size that matters but whether it works also deserves examination. We would argue