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Obama takes office, calling to join him "in the work of remaking America." Future history will see: in which way?

By WcP.Tomorrows.H... - Posted on 21 January 2009

Barack Obama, joined by his wife Michelle, takes oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts to become the 44th president of the United States at the US Capitol in Washington


WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama was inaugurated yesterday as the 44th president of the United States, seizing the historic moment to invoke the "price and the promise of citizenship" and demand the participation of all Americans in restoring the country to greatness. He took the oath of office on Abraham Lincoln's Bible before a sea of more than 1 million people that stretched from the Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial. He struck a solemn tone in warning of the challenges and sacrifices that lie ahead. Comparing the economic crisis and fight against terrorism to the trials faced by the Founding Fathers, Obama implored his fellow citizens to join him "in the work of remaking America."

President Barack Obama giving his inaugural address to the millions assembled spectators

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," Obama said, his voice reverberating throughout the National Mall. "Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end - that we did not turn back, nor did we falter."

Vice President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office from Justice John Paul Stevens as Mr Biden’s wife Jill holds the Bible

He repeatedly invoked the need to return to American ideals stretching back to the country's most celebrated founding father and first president, George Washington. In other words, as Obama has said before, it was time for America to reboot. Early in the speech, he briskly ran through a catalogue of failure: "Our healthcare is too costly; our schools fail too many" while America's energy policies, "strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet". In a withering farewell to the age, he quoted Corinthians - "the time has come to set aside childish things".

En Masse: people gather on the National Mall for the Inauguration of Barack Obama

"The time has come," he continued, "to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."

a marching band walks down Pennsylvania Avenue during the Inauguration parade

Obama warned that Americans would have to recognize "that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world." In place of "those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame" - the people Bush once jokingly referred to as "his base" - the new president looked for inspiration to the unknown Americans "obscure in their labor", who had fought and worked "till their hands were raw". Noting that "a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous", Obama in effect called for an end to plutocracy. It was as close to class rhetoric as an American president ever comes.

Obama arrives onto the dais

After being sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the Democratic president used his 19-minute inaugural address to send a clear message to his fellow citizens and to the citizens of the world: that Washington's values, philosophies, and actions on everything from economic policy to diplomacy would depart significantly from those of Republican George W. Bush over the past eight years.

To Americans fearful about the economy and "a sapping of confidence," Obama vowed bold and swift action, calling for massive government investment in roads and bridges, in solar and wind energy, and in healthcare and education. Paraphrasing words from the Declaration of Independence, he said all citizens "deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."

President Obama and his wife Michelle wave to the crowd as they walk down Pennsylvania Avenue in the Inauguration parade

With Bush seated nearby, Obama also offered a clear critique of his predecessor, saying, "We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," one of the few times the rhythm of the speech was broken by spontaneous applause. The short phrase encapsulated a deep-seated unease that, in striking out against its enemies, America had lost its way, stumbled into Guantanamo Bay and "black" CIA detention sites, and abdicated its claim to moral leadership. "America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more," Obama said forcefully, a line that drew perhaps the biggest cheer of the day. What had won previous great struggles had been "sturdy alliances and enduring convictions" not "power alone". Americans could not "do as we please", but had to rely more on soft power - "the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint", and addressing the Muslim world in particular, he offered a "new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect".

journalists take their positions around the Inauguration stand

In an echo of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first inaugural, Obama said it was not the nation that had failed. The crisis was a consequence of failure of leadership, and the "greed and irresponsibility" of a few. The answer was to get back to work, with the government in the lead. It was a 21st Century version of FDR's New Deal, with a pledge that when the country rebuilt, it would rebuild in a sustainable way. "We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together," Obama said. "We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories." Science would be "restored to its rightful place".

Former President Jimmy Carter is accompanied by his wife, Rosalynn, as he waves to the assembled crowds

Inaugurations are always highly anticipated rituals of American democracy, but this year's was on a different order of magnitude altogether. The roar of the crowd when the Obamas were introduced, the chant of "O-ba-ma" that rippled up from the throngs on the Mall, the euphoria and the tears on the faces of those who bore witness yesterday - all were measures of the heightened significance of this transfer of power. Obama's swearing-in, protected by an extraordinary blanket of security, was the capstone to a festive, multiday celebration that captivated Washington and capitals around the world, interrupted only by a health scare when Senator Edward M. Kennedy had an apparent seizure during a Capitol luncheon. He was later reported to be resting comfortably at a hospital.

The atmosphere in the capital, reflecting the unique fellowship of Obama's campaign, was warm and fraternal, with perfect strangers laughing, shouting, and waving American flags with one another. "I woke up this morning thinking, this is our day. It's the nation's day. We're taking it back," said Lauren Azar, a 47-year-old public service commissioner from Madison, Wis. "America's just coming on the mend," said Timothy Young, 55, a doctor from Atlanta. "I think it's bigger than race, it's bigger than anything. That's why you see all these people, of every race, every color, every creed, and they're all talking to each other. We're talking to each other again."

over a million people gathered on the National Mall for the Inauguration

After Obama's speech, he and his wife, Michelle, escorted Bush and his wife, Laura, to their waiting helicopter, and many in the crowd reacted with glee at the sight of the 43d president climbing aboard and leaving the White House for good. "Close the door!" one woman yelled. The crowd waved and cheered madly as the helicopter departed west over the Capitol grounds.

Later in the afternoon, the Obamas, along with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, took part in the customary inaugural parade up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. For a few blocks, Obama and his wife got out of their armored limousine and walked the parade route, waving, beaming, and acknowledging the mobs of people who lined the streets. Last night, the Obamas were scheduled to drop by all 10 official inaugural balls held around the city.

Secretary of State nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton and husband, the former President Bill Clinton, arrive at the Capitol in Washington

But now that his historic two-year march to the White House is complete, the president must face squarely a litany of challenges at home and abroad. The United States is enduring its worst economic calamity since the Great Depression, with an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent, daily announcements of major layoffs, and a stock market that lost one-third of its value in 2008; the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index plunged more than 5 percent, while the Dow Jones industrial average shed 4 percent.

In the Senate, seven members of Obama's Cabinet were confirmed yesterday. But a vote to confirm Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state was delayed by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who demanded a roll-call vote on her nomination. That vote is scheduled for today, and Clinton is expected to win confirmation with broad bipartisan support. Late yesterday, more than 15 Obama officials made their way into the White House to get to work, answering phones, plugging in computers and trying to turn up the thermostat. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order to stop all federal agencies from proceeding with pending regulations until the administration can review them. Obama is planning to meet with his national security and economic teams today.

Standing Room Only: spectators for the swearing-in ceremony seek perches on the National Mall


Photos courtesy of Carlos Berria / Reuters, Jim Young / Reuters, Jason Reed / Reuters, Vincent Laforet / TIME, Elise Amendola / AP, Ron Edmonds / AP Photo, Jae C. Hong / AP Photo, Elise Amendola / AP Photo, EPA, AP, Mario Tama / Getty, Mark Wilson / Getty

Original Source: Boston Globe, The Guardian, Time, Washington Post and The Telegraph

Related Articles: Barack Obama inauguration: Everything you need to know (with video and image galleries) and World congratulates Obama on taking office

President Barack Obama's inaugural address: speech in text and video

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