, Newburyport, MA

January 25, 2013

From Lincoln's mouth to Obama's ear

Bill Plante's
North Shore

---- — It was fitting that a much-troubled world could bear witness to the second coming of Barack Obama to the presidency of these United States in a day-long extravaganza of feeling good.

What passes for revolution in America had ended without bloodshed in November. The late, bitterly marked effort to save the nation from tumbling over the fiscal tax cliff had succeeded in closeting it for a few months, and Republicans retired to address their wounds.

Democrats from coast to coast and border to border were ready to party, and party they did with a gala that reached deep into Monday night.

Much has changed since a young and untried President Obama took office four years past, and he shows its wear.

So did his predecessor, George W. Bush, more so when he left office after eight.

There is no office more challenging than that of the presidency of these United States. It always is because it was so designed. Presidents have considerable power, but it’s subject to the balancing of the House and Senate. It will be more so in Obama’s second term because we remain a nation historically deep in debt and bitterly divided over how to overcome it.

He knows that. His speech sizzled with it.

Democrats have secured the presidency and control the Senate. The House controls the purse. Attempts to bridge the gap with more than a makeshift bridge have failed, but — advantage Obama.

Republicans have ruled the House for two years. They fear the historic debt has grown beyond our ability even to imagine. Some have tried to put a face on its present ceiling of $16,394 trillion.

It is a number beyond comprehension, and they want to cut costs. So does Obama. They differ as to where and how much.

That is why Obama’s was no ordinary acceptance speech. It bore all the style, substance and challenge of a campaign that will not end until Democrats dominate the House once again. Much of what is done over the next two years will fuel partisan dialog at its highest political level.

The celebration, however, was as upbeat as upbeat can go, and I wondered what the world beyond made of this nation’s celebration at a time of such historically divisive economic distress.

I was struck by the TV coverage of the president of the world’s most open government and those closest to him watching the seemingly endless parade behind bulletproof glass. Essential as it was, given the reality of these times, it represented the transparency of what divides and unites us.

Whatever the outcome, the struggles ahead are going to be as divisive as were those in the prelude to it.

In 1853, Abraham Lincoln, facing a bitterly divided nation, said, “A House divided against itself cannot stand.”

President Obama takes Lincoln seriously. So must Congress. So must we all.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His email address is