Writers know the best transitions are seamless. Readers should move fluidly through texts, without stumbling. Bad transitions are like potholes – ugly, dangerous and wise to avoid.

Politically speaking, the best transitions are seamless, too. Except the “readers” in political transitions, for some reason, want otherwise. They seem to demand the pothole, the jarring attention-getting shift that is altogether unwelcome in most other contexts.

Why is this? Well, it’s mostly because the political public, by now, has been told the road is beyond repair for so long that rapid change is the only answer. While this thinking sways votes, it’s not the wisest way to govern and not the smartest way to get started.

Which leads into today’s big event – the inauguration of President Barack Obama, whose campaign rhetoric promised transformational change in Washington after eight years of a presidency whose initial gains were destroyed by second-term scandals and failures.

Yet since his election, Obama has heard criticism for not being transformational enough. His Cabinet selections, for example, though practical, wise and experienced, were scoffed at in some circles as his sell-out to the Washington establishment.

How can he bring fundamental change, it’s been asked, by relying on the same old faces?

This question brings the difference between rhetoric and reality into clarity. Obama has apparently recognized – as his 43 predecessors did too – that it is not America that needs to change, only its day-to-day management.

On Monday, The New York Times featured a graphic that highlighted words most often used in inaugural speeches, dating to George Washington. To no surprise, the same ones appeared over and over: government, people, America, freedom, constitution, promise, great.

These similarities signal a powerful belief in the institutions of American government and , regardless of how ill the country is portrayed in campaigns, it’s the health and strength of its ideals that will make it succeed over the challenges ahead.

Rapid change is unnecessary. What’s needed is renewed dedication to fundamental qualities of American democracy. Obama’s Cabinet choices, with varied backgrounds, share this common feature – a knowledge and respect for the democratic process.

We hope to hear this sentiment from the president today – the restoration of confidence in the national leadership and its institutions. Although Obama campaigned on the very message, current events make rapid “change” perhaps the worst course.

America needs a steadying influence, a seamless transition into the new administration that allows for rebuilding the country’s ragged psyche at home and messy reputation abroad. More than new policies, America needs a fresh outlook on its future and its promise.

This doesn’t come from change. It comes from remembering what has made this nation the greatest on Earth. This is the message we wish to hear today.

And judging from Obama’s pre-inaugural decisions, the one we expect him to deliver.


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