On the End of the Beginning

For a few months now, I’ve been referring to tomorrow’s inauguration of a new President by quoting Gerald Ford’s famous phrase from his address to the nation upon taking the office at Nixon’s resignation — “Our long national nightmare is over.”

But that’s not exactly true.

George Bush will be leaving office tomorrow at Noon eastern. But the damage he’s done to this country, its institutions, its standing in the world, its economy, and its society will endure long past tomorrow afternoon.

The wars he has begun, the detention facilities that stand outside the rule of law, the yawning chasm between rich and poor, the inadequacies of access to health care, the economic collapse on his watch — these are problems that remain, and that will remain with us for months, years, even decades.

The long national nightmare won’t be over tomorrow.

Instead, I’ve found myself turning more toward a quotation of Winston Churchill’s, given in late 1942 — “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

And that, I think, is where we stand as a society. A new chapter opens tomorrow, one that builds from the past, one that must address the past.

Barack Obama has a great challenge ahead of him. His inauguration tomorrow as the 44th President of the United States is not an automatic cure for the ills of the Bush administration; that damage runs too deep and is too pervasive.

As much as I would like to see everything fixed tomorrow, it won’t be.

As much as I would hope to see everything fixed within a year, many things will be left undone twelve months hence.

The future beckons, but even then, we’re still at the end of the beginning.

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