Barack Obama didn't promise a new era in his inaugural speech. He promised a new American revolution. His evocation of George Washington at the end of his address made it clear that he regards the perils that face the country as almost no less daunting than those that it confronted in battling for its independence.
Now a fresh, stubbornly independent generation, Obama suggested, must emerge to renew the promise of American life. The tone of his speech was somber, but his vision of the future was not. If America can navigate the icy rapids that threaten to submerge it and tap into the "quiet force of progress," Obama indicated, it can emerge into a sunlit harbor, united by the memory of having conquered some of the greatest dangers, domestic and foreign, that it once braved. Whether that vision will be fulfilled is another matter. But Obama's inaugural address, sober and dignified, has set the foundation for constructing a new gleaming edifice of democracy. It is up to us as much as Obama to construct it.