Baby Steps

03/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Last Tuesday morning, people on the Mall wept and cheered for the coronation of a new king, laughed and booed for the send-off to an old one, and the American people all over the country seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

Tuesday night everyone partied and by Wednesday's early hours, D.C. returned to its boring, stuffy, beautiful-people-less normalcy.


During that day, Americans waited with baited breath for the initial visit to the Oval Office, those introductory calls to foreign dignitaries and those newly signed executive orders.

In the U.S. and abroad, we were like new parents, mouth agape, filled with awe, hope and excitement, with a camcorder fixed on a precious newborn moving in front of us. Staring, we were waiting for that monumental moment - those first steps - waiting to see how he would stretch, get on his own two feet, bend his legs, and propel himself forward.

And move forward he did. With a stroke of the pen, Gitmo saw its last days (albeit in a year), African aid stopped being dictated by reproductive policy, sketchy CIA interrogations became taboo, emissions became a priority, lobbyists were reined in, and our economy was stimulated.

...Then, he took his oath. ...Again.
On Wednesday night, at 7:35 in the Map Room, Chief Justice Roberts re-did the constitutionally mandated oath of office which, the day before, had gone awry when Roberts had misplaced the word "faithfully" and caused 2 minutes of inaugural awkwardness.

Before raising both their right hands and facing each other, Chief Justice asked if Obama was ready. The president slyly responded, "I am, and we're going to do it very slowly."

Later asked to comment, White House Counsel Greg Craig said, "We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the President was sworn in appropriately yesterday. But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time."

All of this week's Oval Office actions and orders have been planned since, well, probably since the moment Obama assembled his presidential exploratory committee. But this Tuesday's oath misstep was certainly unscripted and, with an "abundance of caution," the new White House staffers responded immediately to shore up even the whiff of illegitimacy.

Not to downplay Obama's other actions this past week (because they are all immensely important), but this small and seemingly insignificant action speaks, to me, the loudest and clearest volumes about the president he is going to be.

The new administration's calm vigilance contradicts the underpinning of reckless haste that seemed to dog the Office of George W., who pursued a quick war in Iraq, warrantless taping of American citizens and interrogation techniques toeing way too close to the line of torture - without the thought of caution to legitimacy...much less with an abundance.

We've all known for quite some time that Obama is an ardent thinker, inquisitive learner, and policy wonk. His transition team was more active than any we'd seen in the past and his plans were assembled and put into motion at a rate unseen before in the American political change of power.

Now, here he is, confronting his first unexpected "challenge" with shift, overeager, overcautious attention. We knew he wasn't going to be another Bush, but, with this caution, what will he be? Will he be the quizzical liberal slightly afraid to place a bet (a la Carter), or the charismatic though legalistic procrastinator (somewhat like Clinton), or the politician caught between a rock and a hard place, so appalled by the public's contempt for his predecessor that he never strays far from reminders that personalities have changed (the old Ford model). Who knows - and truth is, he'll probably be none and all at the same time.

So here we are, the new parents. We created this being, this persona, and we are not entirely sure what he'll be like in a few years. While we have some limited power, we do not have control over how he develops. We are hopeful - we have to be - that he will be all that we dreamed and we can't wait to watch him blossom in front of our eyes.

While important and memorable, a baby's first steps certainly don't dictate what kind of person he will be. From just this week, though, at least we know our little boy will be looking both ways before crossing the street - every parent's dream.

I can't wait to see him run.