by | Feb 25, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Today America will erupt in celebration.

But an outsider might ask: What are we so happy about?

For most, this is the worst economy of our lives. People are losing houses. People are losing jobs. We are in two wars, and the Middle East is again simmering with violence.

What are we so happy about?

Our schools are in disarray. Our stock market is sick. Our environment is taking a pounding. We face threats from Russia and a big shadow from China. What are we so happy about? Why are we celebrating? Waves of people at the Lincoln Memorial? Nonstop news coverage? Why does it feel that inaugurating Barack Obama as our 44th president has already become a mini-Olympics of self-congratulation, parties everywhere, singing and dancing everywhere, exultations of near biblical frenzy?

Do we really think with one hand Obama will take an oath today and with the other hand he will wave and make all our problems go away?

Of course not. Any sane mind knows the economy moves with little regard for who sits in the White House. And Middle East wars proceed no matter who serves as America’s commander in chief. Policies and taxes never change unless Congress approves them, and Congress never gives a free pass to a president.

So what’s with all this celebration? Why does Washington look like the Grammys? What’s with all these Obama posters? Why are TV newscasts using soppy music and slow-motion images and newspapers printing up special sections with giant Obama photos? Why is the New York Times, the supposed flagship of unbiased journalism, running giant ads for a commemorative book on Obama’s “historic journey,” complete with writings from its supposedly unbiased columnists, before Obama is even sworn in?

What are we all celebrating?

Hope? Great answer. But hope for what?

What are we so happy about? Everybody wants something

We can learn a lot from our answers.

If your answer is you’re happy because you are finally getting “your” guy in office – then today is nothing to celebrate. Because “your” guy means it’s not someone else’s guy. That’s hardly unity. That’s not what Obama stands for.

If you’re happy because Obama will stick it to the rich, while you, a poorer person, will get a tax cut – then today is nothing to celebrate. Obama talks about everybody doing a fair share. Earning less shouldn’t absolve you. That’s not unity, either.

If you’re happy because Obama is half-black, and now black issues will be moved to the forefront – then today is nothing to celebrate, because you are breaking things down by race, and once you do that, it doesn’t matter which color you prefer, it’s still myopic, and its not unity.

If you’re happy because Obama in means George W. Bush and all things associated with him are out – remember Bush has his supporters, too, and, like it or not, he was our president. Hating him doesn’t lead to unity. That’s not what Obama claims to be about.

Yes, today’s celebration will be joyous and wonderful. But if all this noise and partying is just a bunch of individual interests figuring Barack Obama will be their flag bearer, we should stop the music right now.

He will never be all things to all people.

He should never be one thing to one people.

The truth is, Barack Obama, as our 44th president, is, at his best, an idea.

And this is the idea:

That you don’t just see your needs being addressed, which makes you happy. But you see others’ needs being addressed.

And that makes you happy, too. It’s really up to us

If the white citizen can see the celebration of black citizens and say to himself or herself, “I understand the elation. It’s good for all of us to feel a part of things”- then we’ll have done something.

If the Republican can see the celebration of Democrats and say, “OK, it’s not my party, but it’s my country, and it’s good to give someone new a chance”- then we’ll have done something.

If the rich say, “I’ve had it good for a long time, and if the country needs money so that we all have opportunity, OK”- then we’ll have done something.

If the poor minority says, “You know, I’ve always blamed this country for picking on me, but it’s time to drop that complaint and take responsibility for what I do”- then we’ll have done something.

All of that is on us, not him.

In the coming hours, we will gush over Obama to incredible levels. Nobody does celebration the way America does celebration, and, let’s be honest; we seem to be extremely proud of ourselves for having elected him.

But this is still a nation that refers to itself as “under God,” not “next to God” in the Oval Office. We cannot deify Barack Obama. We will be sadly and quickly disappointed.

He will not fix things quickly. He will not fix everything. He will not please everyone. And he will not always say what is popular.

The best that Obama can be is someone who brings out the best in us. And that means we think of the other guy as much as we think of ourselves.

If we do that, we will rediscover America.

And it really will be time to celebrate.

The best that Obama can be is someone who brings out the best in us. And that means we think of the

other guy as much as we think of ourselves.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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