What a thrill it was to tune into President-elect Obama's first press conference and see someone who actually looked and sounded like a President. In the course of struggling manfully to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt for far longer than he probably deserved it, I must have conditioned myself to accept the sub-normal and the sub-literate as "just the way he is," and often chastised people when they got on their high horses to the effect that "Oh, man, Bush is so dumb."
"Just because someone doesn't have perfect mastery of the English language doesn't necessarily make him dumb," I'd say, and go on to point out that whatever his failings, intellectual or otherwise, Bush had been clever enough to snag the most powerful job in the world whereas his critics as often as not were holding forth from a barstool or the equivalent thereof (bringing to mind George Burns' old dictum about it being a shame that the people who really knew how to run the country were all too busy driving cabs and cutting hair).
But the minute Barack Obama took the stage it became clear that affirmative action for the perpetually befuddled was no longer necessary or appropriate. The contrast just made it all the more clear that it wasn't just Bush's policies or means of executing them that were deficient; the man himself had been painfully unequal to the task. Those who tend to view the American Empire as being in terminal decline would compare Bush to one of the dreary succession of buffoons and pretenders who held the imperial throne at Rome during that Empire's last days, the difference being that Roman emperors found wanting (i.e., just about all of them during the last century or so) were rather more quickly dispatched - often in a matter of weeks or months - once their weaknesses revealed themselves.
Those not ready to write America off might see Obama's accession as a case of normal service being resumed except that with the partial exceptions of Reagan and Clinton, America hasn't seen much in the way of either strong or competent leadership for most of the last half century, while the sky-is-falling crowd could just as easily maintain that even should Obama prove successful, he might represent only a brief lacuna in an overall cycle of decline.
No matter how you look at it, Obama comes into office with greater expectations thrust upon him than any President since FDR or possibly Lincoln, and yet the guy seems to exude, in fact, to radiate confidence. And he'll need it; it will probably be no more than a few months, if that, before commentators are either measuring him for a spot on Mt. Rushmore or damning him as a bad Jimmy Carter retread.
Personally I want to believe in him, not just because he's so darn likable and inspiring, but also, and more importantly, that we'll all be in very deep shit if he doesn't succeed. With all the problems we face, it's kind of maddening to have to wait two and a half months for Bush to finally vacate the White House and let Obama get started, but in the meantime, there hasn't been a day so far where I haven't at least once or twice thought about how great it feels to have a President - even one in waiting - who looks, sounds and acts like a President. I might be singing a different tune come January or February when the cold hard facts of Realpolitik kick in, but for right now I can't think of a single person I'd rather see getting ready to lead this country out of the mess it's in.