Cook on Concord: Good luck, President Obama

On Jan. 20, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States. All of those watching the ceremonies, and it was reportedly the most-watched television event in world history, could not help but be struck by the historic significance of the inauguration of a 47-year-old African-American among all the pomp and circumstance with which we Americans peacefully transfer power. It was an event that took place on a structure largely built by African-American slave labor not very long ago in world history.

The Obama family displayed class and grace, is obviously handsome and will represent the country well. In this regard, it succeeds another handsome family with great American ties.

Obama’s inauguration also marked the departure from Washington of George W. Bush and his administration. Bush left the presidency with class and grace, which may have set him up somewhat for kinder treatment by historians than otherwise might have been the case. However, as often was noted, history’s judgment has to wait for time to pass.

At the luncheon following the inauguration, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts collapsed, raising new concerns about his health. The Kennedy connection to this inauguration and its historical connections were noted in several ways the same week.

Upon the confirmation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the New York senate seat became vacant. Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President Kennedy, withdrew from contention, probably because she’s been told by Gov. David Paterson that she was not going to get the job.

Comparisons between Caroline Kennedy and her uncles, Ted and the late Robert F. Kennedy, a former New York senator, often were made during her quest to be appointed. Her apparent lack of experience was compared to that of Robert and Ted Kennedy when they ran. What was missed was that before he was a U.S. senator, Robert Kennedy was attorney general of the United States. On the other hand, when Edward Kennedy was elected at age 30, he had nothing but name going for him, his opponent Edward J. McCormack, Jr. having noted, “If your name were Edward Moore, your candidacy would be a joke.”

Of course, his name was Edward Moore Kennedy and he has served in the Senate since 1962.

For those baby boomers like me whose first recollection of a presidential inauguration was that of John F. Kennedy in 1961, it is somewhat sobering to note that Barack Obama was born later that year!

Religion was notable during the inaugural ceremonies. New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop Eugene Robinson gave the invocation at the charming and delightful concert on Sunday afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial. There was some controversy in this, given that Robinson is the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. Controversy intensified when the invocation was not carried on HBO and, apparently, the microphones were not on so the majority of those in attendance could not hear it. Robinson graciously downplayed any intent in that connection.

At the inaugural ceremony itself, the invocation was given by Rick Warren, a conservative Protestant clergyman who, while noting the various religions in the world, ended his prayer with the Lord’s Prayer, Protestant version, using “trespasses.”

For those of us who remember when there was great debate between young Baptists and Presbyterians, Catholics and Methodists, as to which was the “true Christian” in the 1960s, the traditional Christian prayer was comforting. It may be politically incorrect these days, but its inclusion was a salute to at least the plurality of those religious people in America.

Joseph Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, gave the benediction with vigor and humor, and his presence was historically notable, as was that of Aretha Franklin singing and the many, many — in fact, millions — of African-Americans who felt special connection to this inauguration.

The problems facing the new administration, as Obama noted in his inaugural address, are historic, significant and daunting. Regardless of party, all Americans have a stake in the Obama administration’s success, since none of us can afford to have it fail.

Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association.