Thomas Edison, never so crass as to declare himself a genius, stated at a press conference in 1929, "None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration."
We've heard a lot about inspiration this past year. We've been told by the media, repeatedly, that President Obama has "inspired" people. I just can't figure out exactly what he has inspired people to do. In fact, I don't think many of those that have been inspired by the Obama campaign and election have figured out what they are supposed to do.
That's not to say that I am not in favor of inspiration, or haven't been inspired myself. The first time I went to a baseball game I wanted to be Tom Seaver - the first time I saw A Hard Day's Night I wanted to be Paul McCartney - the first time I read The Pit and the Pendulum I wanted to be Edgar Allan Poe - and so on. And I surely made attempts to be like all of my early idols.
But when Americans are asked how Barack Obama has inspired them, the answer tends to be not about action, but about feelings. He makes people feel optimistic. He makes people feel hopeful. He makes people feel better about themselves and the world.
Freshman congressman Leonard Lance was even quoted in the newspaper as saying, "That an African-American can run successfully for president . . . is a demonstration of our continuing hope in America."
Mr. Lance is right on - but hope alone isn't going to get the job done. Hope is the one percent in Edison's equation.
Now comes the hard part.