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As Obama Takes Office, Another President Says Good-bye

Essayist Richard Rodriguez mulls the nature and significance of presidential farewells as George W. Bush leaves the White House to his successor, President Barack Obama.

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  • RICHARD RODRIGUEZ, NewsHour Essayist:

    It is in winter when the trees are skeletal and twilight does not linger that presidencies come to an end. Shortly after the new president is sworn into office on the Capitol steps, the old president leaves.

    Bill Clinton, and before him, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, all the way back to Richard Nixon, who melodramatically waved farewell to us in his disgrace, this has become a ritual of the television age. From the White House lawn to the tarmac of Andrews Air Force Base, the ex-president waves goodbye.

    It is astonishing to witness the ancient lesson that power passes, even the greatest power passes, because life is transitory.

    There is, in the physical act of waving goodbye, an acknowledgment of all that we cannot hold. The hand is open, empty. We practice waving goodbye throughout our lives. It becomes a way of preparing ourselves for the loss of all that we love.

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