"Please, Mr. President"

"Please, Mr. President"

An inaugural commentary by Ray Robinson

Today is Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009. In a few hours we will have a new president: Barack Hussein Obama.

His inauguration signals a new (and probably very different) chapter in the life of our nation. President George W. Bush will be one of the first to congratulate him. After eight years of service and untiring effort (“I have done the best I could,” he often says), Bush will return to his native Texas to rest, reflect, and begin to shape his future.

Without a doubt, he will continue to serve as best he can. Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter did not have the favor of many. Yet after their presidential terms, they probably did more for humanity than any of their predecessors. I hope President Bush will make us all proud of his work for others during his retirement years.

I think most of my friends and relatives voted for President Bush, and have supported him these eight years. They can spend hours defending his actions and singing his praises. I love them for standing by our president and standing up for America. He has been our president, my president, and I frequently prayed for his success.

I have never known whether I am a Democrat or Republican. I have voted both ways through the years. In the 2006 election, I voted for Gov. Phil Bredesen (a Democrat) and Sen. Bob Corker (a Republican). They both won and are serving well. In the next gubernatorial election, I expect to vote for Bill Haslam, currently serving as Knoxville mayor.

This past November, I cast my vote for Obama. I know this disappoints many, but I hope it does not strain our relationship. I am registered as a Republican, and my family tree has a Republican Tennessee governor in it. Does that count?

This new president faces the greatest challenges of any of president in U.S. history. The issues are many: the deficit, indebtedness, the economy, unemployment, the uninsured, the poor, the disenfranchised, three unpopular wars, national security, (personal security, too!), and immigration, to name a few. We have lost too many allies, and we do not stand tall in the eyes of far too many nations. (I visited 42 countries in the last two years, and I can vouch for their negative feelings.)

Added concerns: President Obama inherits a nation divided, with a diminished respect for the presidential office. He must also find some way to live up to all those exaggerated campaign promises. On the first day after his inauguration, he will bear the weight of many worlds.

Much of our understanding of world events is shaped by the media. Unfortunately, the media does not always tell the truth. Some of us have also done some ugly twisting of the facts concerning President Bush and others entrusted with public service. It appears we have delighted (me included) in catching Bush in the wrong. Shame on us! It is time to stop this foolishness and do all we can to strengthen our nation and leaders at every level.

It is also time for us to stop saying we will all be Muslims in six months, that Obama is the Antichrist, he thinks like Jeremiah Wright, and we will soon be a Socialist society. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

If I had the ear of President Obama, I would say at least this:

Please, Mr. President, remember to embrace us all – all of every stripe who are called “Americans.” We are all so very different, but we are brothers and sisters somewhat knit together by love for our country. As those of opposing views needle you without mercy, be humble and tolerant and recall those powerful words of Edwin Markham: He drew a circle that shut me out/ Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout/ But love and I had the wit to win/ We drew a circle that took him in. I believe most of our citizens want us to be “one nation, under God.”

Please, Mr. President, reach across the lines dividing us from other nations. Lest we all get blown apart, we must be a world community. Of course, there is a fine line between friends and non-friends. I will pray you will be able to discern just “who is who.” Years ago, I visited Nagasaki and found my way to the Peace Memorial Park. There at the hypocenter (Ground Zero) is a large stone statue of a man. His left arm is outstretched with the hand turned down, a gesture of peace. His right hand is raised high with the forefinger pointing upward, a gesture of watchfulness. One of his legs is bent under and his eyes are closed to suggest tranquility and prayer. The other is planted firmly to suggest readiness to move to action. Sadly, Mr. President, because of the way our world is these days, you must move in like manner.

Please, Mr. President, know this: I have the custom of praying for our presidents. I am sure I will be pray more for you because you must carry a heavier load than most others. I will pray for your safety and happiness, and that of your family. I will pray you can build the bridges that need to be built. I will pray that our nation, “the land of the free,” can liberate all who are bound one way or another. You have committed the Golden Rule to memory, now commit it to life. Reach out for the rest of us with love and strength.

And, finally: Please, Mr. President, don’t spend these four years campaigning for another term. That’s not the way you should use your time and energy, and we don’t want to be asked to put up with it.

So, dear friends, what would you say to our new president? As you decide, spend time praying for President Bush, President Obama, and their loved ones. We who often say, “in God we trust,” say again, “God bless America.” I’m proud to be an American!

The Rev. Ray Robinson is a retired pastor living in Maryville District.