Putting Things Right

The transition has entered its final stages, and the new day so many of us have worked for, hoped for, has begun. It is remarkable -  the images of the incoming President and his family, the wall to wall coverage on TV, the emotions I feel in my conversations, the hope you see in the crowds. We are truly at a powerful moment in our history, too big and complex to fully grasp today. But if I could try to sum it in a simple phrase - "it is a time just to put things right."

There is a seriousness of purpose I didn't feel sixteen years ago when I was part of the Clinton campaign and transition. There was more joy, more elation. Today there is, running parallel to the hope and optimism, a sense of gravity. As if we are living through one of those moments where things could take one of two paths - a path of decline and fear or a path of progress and hope. But as the poll in the NY Times today indicates Americans understand the gravity of the moment, recognize there is no quick fix, that the work ahead of us will be hard. It will require sacrifice. There will be pain. But I think, today, the American people are ready to do what is required, ready to put things right, and ready to be led by our new President and the remarkable team he is assembling.

I have read much in the last few days that I found compelling. The papers, the magazines, feel consequential again. David Broder's column today is an important one, reminding us that George Bush's failed legacy is not just one of mistakes made but vital challenges not met - in this case the failure to use his Presidency to set us on a fiscal course capable of managing the retirement of the Baby Boom.

Frank Rich's column today about race is excellent, and he continues to be one of the most powerful voices of this new day. I thought the NY Times Book Review had much to recommend today, perhaps no more than this review of a new book, Restoring the Balance, about the future of US-Middle East policy. And Tom Friedman has a very important column, the latest in an ongoing series of public acknowledgements, of public coming to terms, with how grave and game-changing our current economic and financial problem really is.

I know this is a time to look forward to a new day. But before the new President arrives, I want to write one more time, for I feel it so powerfully today, about my incredible anger towards George Bush and the mess he and his team have left all of us to clean up. The challenges the new President is inheriting have all been made much much worse by the ignorant, reckless, ideologically blind and irresponsible leaders who ran our country these past eight years. So much of the mess this new White House is inheriting come from self-inflicted wounds, mistakes we made, problems we failed to tackle, opportunities squandered and not large external events beyond our control.  So while I feel hope and optimism today, and a profound sense of responsibility about the work in front of all of us, I also feel anger, disappointment, even rage. And I know in this age of no drama Obama these kinds of emotions are not cool, but I am not sure they will be gone by Noon Tuesday.

Update: I offered some additional thoughts on this historic moment in this Friday video post.

Update 130: Huff Post has clips of Rahm and Robert Gibbs from this morning previewing the main theme of the speech on Tuesday, and it is something like we need end the culture of anything goes and replace it with a culture of responsibility.  

Update 2pm: I thought this passage from Friedman's column was particularly important, and underscores just how badly Bush and Paulson have managed the financial crisis: 

"I wish people would stop saying that this is a crisis of confidence," said Steven Eisman, a portfolio manager and banking expert at FrontPoint Partners. "The loss of confidence is just a symptom of bad credit and over-leverage. The banks are not lending because they know their balance sheets are loaded with future losses and they don't have enough capital. The TARP gave them preferred equity, which is nothing more than a bridge loan. We need the government to force the banks to write down all their bad assets now and then recapitalize themselves, preferably with private capital. Those banks that cannot raise sufficient capital should be seized and their deposits sold off."