An American flag hangs in the second-floor lobby of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, and at some point today, William Thomas Capps Jr. plans to stand under it. It's the same flag Mr. Capps had flown at the U.S. Capitol last fall to honor Barack Obama. The Glen Burnie truck driver was so sure of Mr. Obama's character and his presidential potential that he knew change was coming and wanted to mark the occasion. Now he's sharing his piece of history with all of Maryland.
Mr. Capps' gesture reflects what's been going on across this country, a shift in attitudes and behavior that cleared a path for the son of a single woman from Kansas and a Kenyan father to enter the homes and hearts of so many Americans. With grace and fortitude, Mr. Obama has marched confidently along that path and right into the history books. His election as the first African-American president says more about the state of the nation than the tenor of American politics. Mr. Obama offered us the chance to look past our differences and unite behind a vision of the future that was as relevant to the farmer in Iowa and dot.comer in California as the Michigan autoworker and the New Jersey lawyer.
In supporting the lanky junior senator from Illinois, millions of Americans moved past the rhetoric of them vs us, rich vs poor, rural vs urban and focused instead on teaming up with neighbors, old and new. They took strength and comfort in shared ideals and demanded an America that would deliver on its promise of opportunity for all. Mr. Capps had confidence that Mr. Obama would bring about change. That's why he campaigned for him.
A Democrat-turned-Republican-turned Democrat, he supported the man, not the party, and said he voted for him not because he was black, but because he was the better candidate. Many others have said much the same. Since the election, the 47-year-old veteran and father of four says he feels the country has been reborn.
Despite the worsening economy and reignited wars, Americans have continued to feel inspired and upbeat about Mr. Obama's move to the White House. They are eager for the new beginning to start and proud of what the nation has accomplished in electing Mr. Obama. They expect him to take decisive steps to bring home American troops from Iraq, put people back to work and make their future more secure. But Mr. Obama can't tackle the serious problems facing America, at home and abroad, without the cooperation of Congress.
He is an inspirational figure, but he is only one man.
For Mr. Obama, his toughest challenge may be marshaling the goodwill he now enjoys and putting it to work for the benefit of the country. He will never have as much support and encouragement as he will have on Tuesday when he takes the oath of office. The millions who brought him to this moment and millions more should be ready to answer his call.