CNN Senior National Editor
Tuesday a week ago, I was asked what I thought would happen the following Tuesday, on Inauguration Day.
What’s important, I replied, is what happens the next day; on Wednesday, when the euphoria of the previous day’s swearing-in and that night’s celebration recede to memory and President Obama has what I must imagine will be . . . THAT moment.
How can there not be THAT moment, when the new President, no matter how celebrated his focus and calm, looks around the Oval Office, puts his hands on the massive desk before him and exhales a long breath as the enormity and gravity of the job sets in?
And if he opens a desk drawer and finds a note from his predecessor offering advice, maybe it would include:
Keep a sense of humor.
Don’t forget to eat lunch.
Exercise helps with the stress. Keep shooting hoops.
Meet with the families of our fallen troops. Value their sacrifice.
Remember that you’re also a husband and a father and that the folks working around you have families.
Don’t worry about history, they’ll write it later. Have faith in your judgment. Protect the country we all love.
My new phone number’s unlisted but I’ll make sure you have it.
For a while during the campaign, debate focused on who was the most qualified to answer the phone at 3 o’clock in the morning.
There is no preparation for this job; not in terms of knowing the important issues and the important people, but in terms of THAT moment, when you realize that you alone are the leader of more than 300 million people with an equal number of needs and interests, that you alone are commander-in-chief of the most powerful military ever assembled, that you alone lead the country the world looks to as a beacon?
Sure, there is a vice-president and there are Cabinet secretaries and other advisers, but as the man from Independence said, “The buck stops here.”
Outside the Oval Office is an officer in the United States armed forces holding carrying a briefcase that includes the means to launch nuclear weapons.
The financial markets, foreign leaders, politicians, friends and enemies alike (not to mention newspaper columnists, talk radio hosts and bloggers) react to every word the President speaks, every decision he makes.
We’re told that President Obama will meet Wednesday with his primary economic advisers and with the civilian and uniformed national security leadership.
Which of a dizzying array of issues are top priorities and which are left simmering on a side or back burners?
A recent Secretary of Defense would offer the following admonition:
· There are things you know that you know.
· There are things you know that you don’t know.
· There are things you don’t know that you know.
· There are things you don’t know that you don’t know.
That last one would be the unexpected, the opportunities, dangers and crises yet to be revealed, events that could force everything else to a back burner, that can cause that phone to ring at 3 a.m.
And at day’s end Wednesday – not that the President’s day ever ends – when President Obama walks from the Oval Office to the private residence, how will he describe THAT moment to his wife and daughters?
And will he have THAT moment again the next morning and the morning after that and every day that he serves as President of the United States of America.
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