Back in the 1988 campaign, there was a discussion of Presidential qualities. High on the list was what came to be called, "the vision thing," almost a play on the fact that neither candidate seemed to be able to lay out a larger vision, focusing almost exclusively on specific issues, talking points and ideas seen from a very close (and therefore very narrow) view. George H.W. Bush tried to stretch himself to wrap around some semblance of a vision by including in one of his speeches a clearly scripted line about 'a thousand points of light' but it fell as flat as-- well, as his Presidency did over the following four years. Bill Clinton, though a master of the middle, and of focus groups, polls and political calculation, also seemed to get things done in small drivets. His wife seemed to have more of a sense of a larger vision but (as we saw in the 1994 health care debacle) didn't share his political insticts (though she has improved in this area-- but still made some political miscalculations last year that likely cost her the Presidency.)
President Bush tried to lay out a larger vision in the wake of 9/11, but he probably shouldn't have tried. In the 2000 election he was all about the same kind of myopic vision that voters had become accustomed to from politicians by that time, and if it took an event to spur him to come up with a larger vision then perhaps that should have been a clue right there that he would have been better off to narrow it to what he was realistically capable of putting together. President Bush was a decisive figure to begin with, and was just not capable of inspiring people to come together with a broad, far reaching and encompassing vision for the future.
To be honest, we've not had a truly visionary President in at least a generation. I've never personally been a fan of Ronald Reagan, but he was able to inspire a lot of people and lay out a vision, I will give him that much. Tragically it was not a good vision though. Rather, it has been a vision that has overlaid much of our political, social and economic life since then and came to its tragic fruition in last year's economic collapse, driven by years of loose regulation and trickle down economics that encouraged people to dream bigger than their wallets would allow.
But the fact that the Reagan vision has persisted as the dominant paradigm until it's failure last year is both a testimony to his vision and the lack of vision laid out by his successors.
There has not been a really visionary Democrat in the White House since John F. Kennedy, nearly half a century ago.
That will change on Tuesday.
For a change we will have a President who is inspirational and has already inspired millions of people to do their best. In the finest tradition of 'ask now what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country' it is likely that President Obama will challenge each and every one of us to do. Not just to put a little sticker on our car or something, but rather to do great things, both in our communities and for our country at large.
Beyond that, he is without question the first President since at least Reagan who can inspire millions of people just by his words. I've felt a sense of renewal listening to Barack Obama that I've not heard, probably ever listening to a President (or President elect). A lot of people saw the same thing in the campaign, if polls are any indication. Obama had and projected a Presidential vision. John McCain did not.
That doesn't mean that times are not hard. They are hard. And they will get harder before they get better. But I am optimistic for a change. I am optimistic that we hvae a leader who not only can see what is coming just ahead, but has a plan for where he wants to lead us for the long term as well.