CNN Senior Executive Producer
Our CNN colleague, David Gergen, was giving a seminar on presidential speechwriting the day before the inauguration, and he said something that stuck: "One of Barack Obama's biggest challenges," he said, is to "keep patience alive." That original turn of phrase, keep patience alive, brought me back more than 20 years, to a rally I covered in Harlem, for the man whose mantra was "keep hope alive."
The event, on Malcolm X Boulevard, was for Democratic Presidential Candidate Jesse Jackson. To be a Jackson supporter required a lot of hope and patience. Jackson was late, as usual. Very late. The crowd waited for a half hour, an hour, an hour and a half. Patience was running out. To prevent a mutiny, the organizers started a chant of "Run Jesse, Run." One supporter finally lost patience and left muttering "Damn Jesse, Damn."
Attending the inauguration of Barack Obama required enormous patience among the million plus who attended. Getting into the inauguration grounds, ticket in hand, took hours. And there were very few good views to be had once you got beyond the gates. But that didn't matter.
Listen to the words of a leading technology executive named Robin Richards, who sent this text message to a CNN friend from the inauguration stands that day. "A sense of pride and civility between all American people at levels I have not ever experienced. Hope is the loudest sound." That from a Republican who did not vote for Barack Obama.
Mr. Obama has inspired hope among a wide variety of Americans. And hope and patience are, of course, connected. If the spirit of the crowds at the inauguration was any indication, he'll get some time to make things happen. But how patient should the American people be?
One of my formative experiences on the tension between patience and urgency came ten years ago when our first child was four days old. She stopped eating. My wife and I thought something was terribly wrong. One doctor urged patience – a "wait and see" approach.
"Wait and see is a sucker's game," said my father-in-law. So we rushed our daughter to the hospital. The abdominal x-rays told the doctors something was terribly wrong – that urgent action was needed.
Before we knew it, our daughter was on the operating table. What the surgeon found when he opened her up was a perforated duodenal ulcer, so rare in a newborn that none of the doctors at the superb Egelston Children's Hospital in Atlanta had ever seen such a case before. Sort of like today's economists and business leaders. Dr. Mark Wulkan patched up the ulcer. But our daughter didn't wake up from the anesthesia that day. One of the hospital's leading medical professors advised us to be patient, to take this one day at a time. We took his advice, as best we could, because we knew the doctors were doing everything they could.
That's what we want from President Obama, and the Congress. To do everything in their power to heal the country, with a balance between urgency and patience.
When I got on a plane in Atlanta headed for the inauguration I asked the pilot what he thought of that landing in the Hudson. How about that skill! "The hand of God was involved," answered the pilot. The hand of God? Wait. That's not the answer I was looking for. I wanted to hear this pilot tell me something like, "well, that's what we're trained to do."
I wanted the pilot to tell me it was all about skill and passion and commitment. That's what I want to believe about air safety. That's what I wanted to believe when the surgeon who took my 4-day-old-daughter into the operating room. And that's what I want to believe about Barack Obama and the new administration. That skills and sense of purpose possessed by President Obama, his team, and the members of the Senate and House, will guide us to a safe landing and lead our nation to a healthy recovery.
The founding fathers did not create a system of government that can quickly and safely bring down a plane whose engines have been knocked out by geese. They did not create a system of government that can, with minimal deliberation, open up the stomach of a four day old child. And yet the situation is clearly urgent. America is hemorrhaging jobs. The blood transfusion of taxpayer cash from the federal government is not yet getting to the people who need it.
"The recovery package that we're passing is only going to be one leg of a three legged stool," President Obama said Friday. In other words, we're working fast, but be patient. There are lots of pieces that must be put in place to create the foundation for a successful recovery.
And so, over these first 100 days of the Obama Administration, we must ask ourselves, each and every day, are our leaders in Washington doing everything in their power to serve America's interests. The answer must be yes, to maintain the urgency of now, and to keep patience alive.
As for my daughter, she is a healthy 10 year old. And as for the pilot who told me the "hand of God" was involved in the Hudson River episode, all I can say is that, for whatever reason, our flight to Washington was very smooth.
Looking ahead to Monday …we’re digging deeper into a new study that turned our heads this week.
Researchers have documented what they call the Obama effect. They were able to show that a performance gap that existed between black and white test-takers all but disappeared when the test was given immediately following Barack Obama's convention speech and after Election Day.
Earlier studies have shown that anxieties about racial stereotypes can lower the test-taking proficiency of African-Americans. The researchers who conducted the new study believe the inspiring role model that President Obama projected even before his election helped blacks overcome those anxieties.
The study was small but its findings are provocative. One compelling question is whether the Obama effect will endure. Tom Foreman will have a report for us Monday.
See you then.. and have a great weekend!
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