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COURSEY: A welcome day off in the nation's capital

The conventional wisdom holds that we are a divided America, but it sure doesn't look that way on an Inauguration Day that also falls on Martin Luther King Day.

Of course, the conventional wisdom is usually right. That's why it's conventional.

But it's good to take a day off from convention every once in a while. It's good to put divisions aside and take a look about what makes America so great.

Barack Obama, no matter how you feel about his personality or his politics, is a symbol of what's right about this country. A lot of us can remember a time when a person with his skin color couldn't go to the same school or eat in the same restaurant or drink out of the same water fountain as a person with white skin.

Today, he is president of the United States, elected not once but twice to the highest office in the land.

Martin Luther King, who fought and died for the changes that led to today's swearing-in ceremony, now is memorialized with a monument between those of Lincoln and Roosevelt at the opposite end of the National Mall from where Obama spoke today. You could almost hear the echoes of his "I have a dream" speech there 50 years ago: "Let freedom ring!"

Freedom of opportunity was a big theme in Obama's inauguration speech, and it was symbolized by more than the granite sculpture of the civil rights leader in the distance. Obama is its embodiment, to be sure. But so is Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who grew up poor and Puerto Rican in the Bronx, and today administered the oath of office to Vice President Joe Biden. So is inaugural poet Richard Blanco, a gay man who spoke of us all living under "one sun" and "one sky." It is even James Taylor, who long ago fell into the depths of heroin addiction but has managed to come back to win the Medal of Freedom and sing "America the Beautiful" at today's ceremony.

Obama spoke eloquently of the words of our founders, saying that "what binds this nation together…what makes us exceptional" is the simple credo of the Declaration of Independence: "All men are created equal."

Lamar Alexander, a Republican senator from Tennessee, quoted a black writer (Alex Haley) writing about African-American slaves ("Roots") to exhort the crowd and the nation to take pride in this day. "Find the good and praise it," he said.

Members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, sat side-by-side in the rows behind Obama. Hundreds of thousands of citizens packed the nation's commons – the National Mall – to bear witness. Millions tuned in on television and radio to hear a Brooklyn church choir sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."


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