Forty-five years ago, I stood on the west tip of the Mall and heard the first great speech of my life -- Dr. King's "I have a dream." Today I stood on the east end, on the slopes of Capitol Lawn, to hear Barack Obama redeem that dream. "The son of the sharecropper" that Dr. King envisaged turned out to be the son of an African villager -- but the moment came, I suspect, sooner that any of us dreamed it would during that summer of 1963.
And it was almost unreal that this same historic occasion marked the moment when energy, climate, and the environment emerged from their long status as part of the "add on list" that our leaders talk about and was instead defined as a central thrust of what we must do as a nation. It's sobering that both milestones came at a time when the nation's old pathways -- economically, environmentally, and in foreign policy -- are crumbling under the weight of their own contradictions and Bush's mismanagement. (And that's all the summing up of the past eight years I'll dwell on.) But the President set the bar for us all and, if the management of his transition is a sample, he's going to ask more of us than any President in my lifetime -- even John Kennedy, whose inaugural address, down to its generational framing, Obama's most resembled.
And judging by yesterday's response to the call by then President-elect Obama for a new spirit of service, I think America is ready. But will the rest of our leaders join us and our new President?