Posted on January 25, 2009
In August 1963, I was a law student and a summer intern in the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington. I was standing at the back of a huge crowd on a hot day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of his dream that one day his children would be judged not "by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." The inauguration of Barack Obama the day after Dr. King's birthday symbolizes both remarkable progress on America's most intractable problem – race – and a reaffirmation of our country's most unique characteristic – a fervent belief that anything is possible. Four years ago, I was asked by the Senate leaders to work on the orientation for new Senators. So I had gotten a chance to get to know the new members, including Senator Obama. We all now know his story very well: a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas. But what struck me was that his grandmother was in the gallery the day he was sworn in. It made me think then and again after seeing him sworn in as President, what a remarkable country this is. It was historic in the sense that it helped us symbolize the overcoming of one of our most intractable problems, the problem of race. But just as important, it symbolized once again the characteristic that makes this country more remarkable than any other country, the idea that anything is possible. People in other parts of the world look at the United States, and they don't always approve of us, but they know one thing is different about us: we are not a country based on blood or race or the color of our skin or where our grandparents came from. We are based upon our common belief in a few ideas, most of which are incorporated in two founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But one of those ideas is just in our character, and that is this irrational, fervent belief that in this country, anything is possible.