Barack Obama's inaugural address was animated by the same sense of history that elevated his presidential campaign. With it, he acknowledged the crimes and limitations of our national past, recognized that we are at a grave turning point, and invoked our great strengths--freedom, labor and sacrifice for the common good--to point us to a better future. It was indeed a day, to use Seamus Heaney's phrase, when hope and history rhymed.
All the talk I heard on the television tonight about whether Obama's call to "responsibility" is fundamentally conservative (and I don't think it is) misses the real point: Obama's election marks the end of conservative dominance and division that dates to the 1960s. As E.J. Dionne observed years ago, Republicans have prospered at the expense of the nation since the Sixties by exploiting and distorting the divisions of that decade.
In fact, Americans of the 1960s confronted fundamental racial inequalities, the role of the federal government as a source of social and economic justice, and the place of American power in the world. Conservatives may have won the immediate battles of the decade, but in the long run the majority of Americans are closer to Democrats on these issues than Republicans.
Obama's genius as a candidate was his ability to craft an electoral majority that preserves the best progressive gains of the Sixties but moves us into a new future. It is the Republicans, with their politics of wedge issues and inequality, that are now the party of the past.
It is time, as President Obama put it so well, "to choose our better history."