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A great day in our history

I don’t care what color you are or what side of the political boat you row, the inauguration on Tuesday of the first black president of the United States is destined to become not simply a milestone in the life of our nation but also a sacrament in race relations that will resonate for generations.

The images of a black family — a man, a woman, two children and a mother-in-law — moving into the White House and becoming our nation’s First Family is special beyond the outward fact of the matter.

However history ends up measuring the success of Barack Obama’s presidency, the pictures of him and his family doing the things that heretofore only white families have done in and around the White House will have a lasting, inwardly good effect on all Americans.

Perhaps more than even the civil rights movement, it tangibly moves us closer to that heavenly place where Americans are judged not by the color or their skin, but by the content of the their character.

This makes Tuesday one of the greatest days in American history.

Regular readers of this column know that the politics of the new president are not my own. I worry about whether he’s got the right stuff to protect us from terrorists and the excesses of our own government-driven economy.

But I take heart in pointing out that over the past month, Barack has “changed” on some of his most liberal campaign promises — such as eliminating tax cuts and recognizing the dangers of the characters detained at Gitmo. There is a big difference between running for president and being the president, which I suppose is why all presidents (left and right) come back to the center-right position in America if they want to be successful and earn a second term. That is, after all, where the people are.

And that brings me to a second point on why Tuesday is a milestone for America.

For the first time, we not only swear in a black man as president, we also swear in a president who, for the bulk of Americans, transcends race.

By that I mean that both black and white Americans seem comfortable in treating Barack Obama as a president first and a black president second.

Imagine that — a people learning to agree and disagree with each other without first sifting it through the tricky filter of race. Remarkable. And good.

When John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president, he was the first to incorporate a poet into the ceremonies.

He wisely picked none other than Robert Frost who, despite his old age, journeyed to Washington, D.C., to recite his famous poem “The Gift Outright.” You will know it by the first few lines:

“The land was ours before we were the land’s.

She was our land more than a hundred years

Before we were her people. She was ours

In Massachusetts, in Virginia.

But we were England’s, still colonials,

Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,

Possessed by what we now no more possessed.

Something we were withholding made us weak.

Until we found out that it was ourselves

We were withholding from our land of living,

And forthwith found salvation in surrender.”

Before reciting this poem, Frost said this in verse:

“Come fresh from an election like the last

The greatest vote a people ever cast … “

With all due respect, this may be truer this Tuesday than it was in 1961.

Sherman Frederick (sfrederick@reviewjournal.com) is publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and president of Stephens Media.

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