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Changing Of The Guard

Daniel Farber is editor-in-chief of and

As President-elect Obama prepares to lose the "-elect" in his job title, the entire world is watching. Cease-fires have been invoked in war zones and billions of people across the planet will tune in to watch the birth of a new era in American politics. It's a truly historic moment, one that 18 months ago few would have predicted.

Mr. Obama is hitting the ground running, putting in place a best and brightest team to manage the affairs of the United States and issuing a call for duty and for a new era of responsibility. His handling of the economic crisis so far -- from outside the White House -- and well-regarded efforts at bipartisanship have already shown that the Obama administration is capable and experienced in the political arena.

A CBS News/New York Times poll indicated that Mr. Obama has the highest levels of optimism and expectations of modern era presidents. Seventy-nine percent of respondents were optimistic about the Obama presidency compared to 64 to 70 percent for the last five incoming presidents. Seventy percent of the Americans surveyed believe that Mr. Obama will change the tone in Washington.

In addition, the poll indicated that Americans have patience -- they aren't expecting Mr. Obama to make the world right and resolve the credit crisis overnight. They are willing to give the incoming president a few years to show significant progress in fixing the economy and health care system, and bringing the war in Iraq to a close.

While the nation apparently expresses a high level of confidence in Mr. Obama and his team of overachieving rivals, the challenges are numerous and complex. The ship of state isn't in danger of sinking -- but it has sprung massive leaks. The scale of the problems is enormous -- a deepening economic crisis, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Middle East conflict, Iran, North Korea and a host of roiling domestic issues.

You have to wonder whether President Obama will have two years to show major progress against the critical problems before patience runs out. It all depends on whether he can rally the nation, Congress and world leaders as President rather than Candidate.

Expectations are also high for Mr. Obama's inaugural address. The press, pundits, bloggers, historians and citizens won't be satisfied unless Mr. Obama defies gravity with a soaring 20-minute masterpiece, 45 years after Martin Luther King delivered his "I have a dream" speech.

According to Mr. Obama's press secretary Rob Gibbs, the inauguration address will focus on an American renewal and fostering a culture of responsibility.

"We need more responsibility and accountability certainly in the way our government acts. We have to have it certainly in many of our financial institutions that sort of have gotten us to where we are in this economic crisis today," Gibbs said, adding that the American people are all going to have to give something.

Mr. Obama has been leaning on Abraham Lincoln, whose inaugural speech was a spare 700 word, as well as Lincoln's Bible for inspiration. He could also check the oratory of Bill Clinton, who replaced another member of the Bush clan with these words at his inaugural on January 21, 1993:

"Thomas Jefferson believed that to preserve the very foundations of our nation, we would need dramatic change from time to time. Well, my fellow citizens, this is our time. Let us embrace it."

"Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."

"And so today, we pledge an end to the era of deadlock and drift-a new season of American renewal has begun."

"To renew America, we must be bold."

"We must do what no generation has had to do before. We must invest more in our own people, in their jobs, in their future, and at the same time cut our massive debt. And we must do so in a world in which we must compete for every opportunity."

"It will not be easy; it will require sacrifice. But it can be done, and done fairly, not choosing sacrifice for its own sake, but for our own sake. We must provide for our nation the way a family provides for its children."

By Daniel Farber
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