Capturing The Moment In An Image

By:  Senator Patrick Leahy
Brattleboro Reformer

On the Tuesday a week before his inauguration, Barack Obama came to his last meeting of the Senate Democratic Caucus before becoming president.  There, a few steps from the Senate Chamber, in the historic Mansfield Room, he met with all of the Senate’s Democratic members, just as we meet together each week to discuss the most pressing policy issues on the nation’s agenda.  But this meeting was special, and attendance – and attention – was especially keen this time.

The problems the nation faces today have been piling up, seemingly by the week, and everyone holding office feels a sense of urgency about solving them.  Like millions of Americans, many of us today also feel a rare sense of hopefulness.

I also feel the powerful tug of history in settings like that.  I always have a camera with me, and as President-elect Obama stood there at the front of the room for a frank, refreshing back-and-forth discussion, I was drawn to the iconic image of this African-American leader standing beneath one of the room’s focal points: an original oil portrait of President George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart.

George Washington, like many of the Founders, was a slave owner.  Did he ever imagine the day when an African American Senator would succeed him as the head of the new and fragile experiment in democracy? 

I framed the image, focused, and captured the moment.

In fact, this is a moment in our history that challenges many assumptions.  It is a time that also stirs renewed hope about and commitment to ideals that have led the nation through many earlier tests.  Courage and new possibilities can be drawn from the individual strands of the hope of millions of Americans, bound together in a common purpose.

As I watch this historic inauguration, I will firmly hope, and firmly believe, that not only is President-elect Obama a leader who can reintroduce our great country to the rest of the world.  In a very real sense, he also can reintroduce Americans to our most enduring ideals.  And to each other.

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[Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is Vermont’s senior United States Senator.]