Our long national nightmare, which you may still think of as the Bush administration, is over. It's time to wake up, time to face grim reality, time to clean up the mess we've made of the world.
That's the message I took away from President Obama's inaugural address. It struck me that, aside from a few inspirational notes, our new leader was giving us a lecture — one he clearly regarded as overdue — on our new responsibilities as adults in charge of our own destiny, and the planet's.
Things are tough and they're going to get tougher, he seemed to be saying. So deal with it. Follow me to higher ground, he instructed, and pick up after yourselves along the way.
As I watched on my new, made-in-China TV, the crowds in Washington and around the country demonstrated that they were in a celebratory mood. Not so the new president. Maybe he was still a little piqued that he and Chief Justice Roberts stumbled over each other's words in the oath of office. Maybe he was wishing that Aretha Franklin had brought more voice and less hat.
Or maybe he felt a need to sober us up after an unseasonably warm and fuzzy couple of weeks in politics. In confirmation hearings and on talk shows, both Republicans and Democrats have been reciting a mantra of bipartisanship, some even suggesting that the times call for post-partisanship, whatever that might be.
Mr. Obama didn't use either of those terms, though he did include the ritual exhortation to national unity. Instead, he firmly closed the Bush chapter and opened one to be based, as he put it, on a new reliance on old values. (In a post-speech analysis, Tom Brokaw joked that if Mr. Bush had seen an advance copy of the speech, the limo ride over from the White House to the Capitol would have been chilly indeed.)
I've always been suspicious of calls for bipartisanship, especially when they come from the side that has just lost an election. Inertia is as powerful a force in politics as in physics, and bipartisanship too often seems to translate into preserving the status quo. That's the last thing we need just now.
I was happy to find my view endorsed by a tarnished hero of the early Bush era, Colin Powell. I read in politico.com that Gen. Powell told MSNBC, "Let's not take this bipartisanship too far." He noted that our political system is constructed of openly competing interests. "Let's fight it out," he said.
As Jon Meacham shows in his new biography of Andrew Jackson, "American Lion," that's good history and good leadership. President Jackson fought as fiercely against his political enemies as he did against the British or the Indians. And he left his country stronger than he found it.
I'm sure President Obama would welcome Republican support for his efforts to rebuild the economy, restore the environment and resolve the wars. He may even get some. I hope, though, that he doesn't forget who won the election, and why.
His inaugural lecture and his first acts in office have suggested, to me at least, that he intends to keep his promises. That's what the great presidents have done.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.