Obama Takes Office In Historic Moment
Barack Obama was sworn in Tuesday as the 44th president of the U.S. under sunny skies and before an ocean of humanity, calling on the nation to put aside greed, irresponsibility and 'our collective failure to make hard choices' -- and turn back the 'raging storms' of war and recession.
In an ambitious, 20-minute address, Mr. Obama sought to obliterate the divisions of conservatism and liberalism and remake American politics.
'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; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations,' Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama stood opposite the Lincoln Memorial where more than 45 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. called upon the nation to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Mr. Obama spent Monday celebrating Dr. King's birthday as a day of service, while street vendors sold memorabilia juxtaposing images of the two black leaders.
Shortly after noon local time, Mr. Obama placed his hand on the Bible once used by the last president from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, and swore to uphold and defend the Constitution.
Though he said he was 'mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors,' Mr. Obama didn't dwell on his own race but spoke of the colorful tapestry of 'a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.'
But he was clearly mindful of the moment, when the son of an Kenyan father who once herded goats attained the highest office in the land -- and the most powerful position in the world.
'Because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace,' he said.
He reminded the nation again and again of the nation he is inheriting, at war against 'those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents' and challenged at home by an economy that is devastating lives and shuddering businesses, by a health-care system that is draining the Treasury yet leaving too many uncared for, and by energy consumption that is warming the planet and an education system that is failing too many children.
Promising 'action, bold and swift,' he issued a stern warning to those who would oppose him. The arguments over the size and scope of government, the traditional divide between liberal and conservative, are over, he said.
'There are some who question the scale of our ambitions -- who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage. What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them -- that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.'
Four years ago, George W. Bush dedicated his second inaugural address to an expansive promise to spread democracy throughout the world. His successor focused far more on the home front, and on an economic system that he intends to remake in the wake of scandal and collapse.
The free market's 'power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched,' he cautioned, 'but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control -- and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.'
Energized by the historic moment, hundreds of thousands of people turned this city's orderly grid of streets into a festive party scene. Under sunny skies and warmer-than-expected weather, Americans of all backgrounds streamed up from subway stations and thronged past parked buses, emergency vehicles and street vendors, and packed Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall.
Record numbers stretched from the foot of the Capitol, where Mr. Obama was sworn in, to the Lincoln Memorial, where the words of Lincoln's second inaugural address are etched, 'With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.'
The crowd may have reached two million people, one of the largest gatherings in Washington's history. Millions more watched across the U.S. and around the world, with outdoor video screens planned for public squares.
Little official business was expected Tuesday in Washington, although the Senate was expected to confirm some of Mr. Obama's cabinet appointments. The real work of the new president will begin Wednesday, Mr. Obama's first full day in office. Aides said one of the new president's first actions would be summoning his national security team to begin preparing for a 16-month withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq, one of the main promises of his two-year-long campaign for the presidency.
That is just one of the new policies symbolizing the change to come as Washington shifts from eight years of Republican rule under Mr. Bush. Within days, Mr. Obama also is expected to issue executive orders to begin closing the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, one of the most controversial symbols of the Bush administration's war on terror; reversing Mr. Bush's restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and restoring funding for family-planning programs overseas.
On the economic front, Mr. Obama's administration is likely to soon issue regulations forcing recipients of Wall Street bailout funds to be more transparent with the money, an aide said. The most-ailing financial institutions won't be forced to lend immediately, but healthier banks will be under pressure to move money from their vaults into the economy. 'Transparency is going to make a big difference,' the aide said.
At the swearing-in ceremony, seated behind Mr. Obama, was his chosen cabinet, including Hillary Clinton, expected to be confirmed as secretary of state. Also behind him was his defeated election opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to Mr. Obama following the swearing in of his vice president, Joe Biden, by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
Mr. Bush was there, too, departing immediately after the ceremony on a Marine chopper en route to Texas, where he will begin the next chapter of his life, as an ex-president.
The swearing-in was to be followed by a luncheon at the Capitol and a parade featuring high-school marching bands, drill teams and floats. The evening was to conclude with 10 official inaugural balls and countless unofficial parties.
Mr. Obama on Monday spoke the message he would deliver at his swearing-in: The time has come for a new culture of public service, as well as a new national unity after years of bitter partisan political division.
'Given the crisis that we're in and the hardships that so many people are going through, we can't allow any idle hands,' Mr. Obama said, taking a break from painting a dormitory at Sasha Bruce House, a shelter for homeless teens. 'Everybody's got to be involved. Everybody's going to have to pitch in, and I think the American people are ready for that.'
Throughout his campaign, Mr. Obama stressed that a nation that should have been rallied to service after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, instead drifted to complacency and consumerism. One of his first political promises was a $3.5 billion-a-year service plan to expand the AmeriCorps program established by President Bill Clinton by 250,000 slots, double the size of the Peace Corps by 2011, expand the Foreign Service, and create an Energy Corps to conduct renewable-energy and environmental-cleanup projects.
During appearances on Monday, Mr. Obama returned to the themes of unity and self-reliance.
'I am making a commitment to you as the next president, that we are going to make government work,' he told volunteers at Coolidge High. 'But I can't do it by myself. Michelle can't do it by herself. Government can only do so much. . . . If we're waiting for someone else to do something, it never gets done.'
Jonathan Weisman / Laura Meckler
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