When he began his quest for the presidency two years ago, Barack Obama told a freezing crowd in Springfield, Illinois, “I know you did not come here just for me. You came here because you believe in what this country can be.” Though his detractors rushed to declare him too young, too inexperienced, a one-term African-American senator with an odd name who could never win a red state, he boldly held out a potent combination of hope and promise and an exhilarating chance to make history. His flawlessly executed campaign challenged convention, brought a new, interactive generation into politics, and allowed him not only to edge out the Democrats’ anointed First Female, Hillary Clinton, but also to collect the largest number of votes in a presidential election in history and defeat the Republican war hero John McCain.
With Barack Obama’s victory, a yearning for goodness and a new start—despite horrendous obstacles—is once again palpably ascendant in our country. In addition to being our first black president, he is also the coolest person in the office since John F. Kennedy, a leader who can think and write clearly and speak to our better selves. He asks for sacrifice and offers to build community. He talks green and understands how to wield the power of the Internet. His strong and stylish wife, Michelle, and their two young daughters—plus a puppy—will bring to the White House a welcome dose of fresh vitality.
He has chosen an exciting team of brainiacs—including a few who can make jump shots—combined with wise counselors from the recent past, and he counts on them to be collegial rather than partisan, ready to hit the ground running and start to bring America out of a dismal war and a deepening recession. Most of them appear in the March issue, photographed by Annie Leibovitz in the hectic week surrounding the most thrilling inauguration in memory. We will learn soon enough just how well President Obama and his group can deliver on his lofty campaign promises. According to his chief strategist, David Axelrod, “He’s very centered and calm. The more challenging things become, the more focused he gets.” But for the moment America just wants to savor its charismatic new First Family.