In America, a new presidency has a significance quite separate from politics. It’s personal milestone too. You remember what your life was like when the last president was sworn in, and you reflect on all that’s different between then and now. You wonder what changes, great or small, will occur in the next eight years. The night before an inauguration is like New Year’s Eve without the booze. It’s a time for taking stock.
When I think back on presidents past, each of their names is like a snapshot from that time in my life. Mostly, presidents are like wallpaper, a bland background to real life. But they become a entwined with your personal experience: Eisenhower and toy sixguns; Kennedy and Playboy magazine; Johnson and bell-bottom pants. Mention the name Gerald Ford and I think of Saturday Night Live, and the dopey clothes I wore as a cub reporter.
I hope President Obama imparts more significant memories than that. I think he will. But thinking back on all the presidents who have served during my time on the planet, I can’t think of a single one who had greater impact on my life than myself, or the people closest to me. It’s worth keeping in mind that for all the hope a new president inspires, real change — for better or worse — starts right there in the mirror.