There is not much doubt this country has more problems than one man can fix. Whether Barack Obama, as the 44th president of the United States of America, can fix any of them remains to be seen. Some problems have no solutions, and some have so many potential solutions that agreeing on one path is next to impossible.But on this day, America needs to celebrate the possible.
Never before has the United States elected a president whose identity was not that of a white man with European ancestry. That is not to say that presidents' bloodlines have matched their public identities, nor that because Obama had an African parent, he must be considered black, but the faces that have most prominently represented the country for all its history have appeared white. Obama's does not.
Obama cannot be all things to all Americans. He is not a woman, and the fact that he very nearly lost his primary campaign to one is another historic fact. It is useless to debate about whether such a race could have happened before 2008, because one did not.
Americans also could debate whether the road to the White House was more or less difficult for Obama than for other candidates who are not white or male. Hillary Clinton's run was far more handicapped by miscalculations than by gender politics. Bill Richardson's campaign sputtered not because of his Hispanic heritage but because he failed to capture voters' imaginations. The United States has yet to see other "minority" candidates who have garnered enough initial support to attract significant national attention - perhaps because so many voters have believed no one but a white man, who also probably was Protestant, could win.
That has changed, and the United States will never be the same. After Obama, many years may pass before anyone but a white Protestant man is elected, but the possibility will exist in a way it never has before. The door may not have opened wide enough to admit all who should be welcomed, but it is no longer slammed so tightly shut.
A third topic that will be debated for many years is whether Obama could have won had not the incumbent president so badly hampered the Republican Party. Democrats were far more able to capitalize on the legacy of George W. Bush, yet Obama's criticisms were far more restrained than those of many candidates. He did not win by being anti-Bush; many candidates campaigned on that platform. He won by convincing a majority of voters, including a substantial number of Republicans, that his ideas for the future of the United States were better than his opponents' ideas.
This nation (somewhat independently of many of its citizens) has moved past the belief that only certain "kinds" of people are able to understand complex problems, to lead a diverse population and to represent the ideals upon which the United States was founded. Such prejudice keeps talented people from serving effectively. Not everyone has abandoned it, but enough voters did, at least once, to elect Obama.
All of that is progress by men and women who make up a government of the people, by the people and for the people, and it should be held somewhat separate from the rest of the hopes and dreams Americans hold for the nation under Obama.
He will stumble. He occasionally will fail badly. Every president does. Whatever else he manages to accomplish, though, he already has helped his country take a step beyond racial prejudice, a step across Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of a nation where everyone "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
For one day, and beyond, that is reason to give thanks.