If our last president -- George Bush -- had said in his farewell speech, "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?" we might have thought he was actually having a moment of clarity and remorse. But unfortunately, these words are William Shakespeare's from Macbeth, and not W's.
First or last, Presidents come in various shapes and sizes, ages, disciplines and principles. But what many of them seem to have in common is their unwavering obsession with cleanliness...literally or figuratively.
For instance, George Washington had a thing about clean fingernails while Ulysses S. Grant apparently had squeaky-clean skin. Before his election, Abraham Lincoln was clean-shaven, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy always kept a clean desk.
Grover Cleveland cooperated with Theodore Roosevelt to clean up state politics, Herbert Hoover committed himself to pollution-free streams and clean beaches, Gerald Ford dedicated himself to cleaning up pollution, and Bill Clinton blocked Republican attempts to roll back the Clean Water and Air Acts.
On the other side of the coin -- Richard Nixon stepped down to allow someone else to clean up his mess. Ronald Reagan made certain that the pools of the rich were kept clean, and George Bush received a clean bill of health while tens of millions of Americans went without healthcare.
And while facing similar problems President Obama will have to address, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said at his own inauguration "We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of the national unity...with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty by old and young alike."
With his dream team of young and old scientists, policy experts, and economists set to toil under the gloom and doom of rising unemployment, home foreclosures, global turmoil, the destruction of our civil liberties, world hunger and starvation, genocide, and an ever-looming climate crisis, the historic inauguration of Barack Obama falls in the worst economic climate in three generations.
It was Shakespeare who also wrote in Macbeth about potions offered up to extraordinary and substantial effect. Hopefully our new president can perform his own brand of magic by allaying our fears, restoring our national dignity, reversing the economic crisis, creating green jobs, declaring peace, and cleaning up the eight-year-old Bush-Cheney stain on the fabric of our country.