Barack Obama raised a hand to history as he recited the oath of office as the nation’s 44th president, declaring Americans have “chosen hope over fear” and promising to rebuild the country in difficult times.
About 2 million people poured into the National Mall to watch the country’s first black president address the crowd from the Capitol building. The chanting throngs of spectators began to turn out before dawn in sub-freezing temperatures and spanned from the Capitol building past the Washington Monument.
After an invocation from Rick Warren, an evangelical pastor from Orange County’s Saddleback Church whose views against same-sex marriage triggered protests after his selection to speak at the event, Aretha Franklin performed “America the Beautiful.” Joe Biden was sworn in, and at 12:05 p.m., Obama took the oath of office.
In his 20-minute speech, Obama said the country faces challenges in the economy, health care, war, education and energy use, but he said it will overcome them with the virtues on which America was founded: “honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism.”
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious, and they are many,” Obama said. “They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.”
He called America’s current state a “crisis” and said Americans are losing confidence and beginning to anticipate the country’s decline. He also said he has plans to “restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”
“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America,” he said.
He went on to promise improvements in the economy, infrastructure, health care, technology, education and fuel options.
“Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans,” Obama said. “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.”
Obama only briefly touched on the significance of his election as the first black president, saying that liberty is the reason “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”
He made one other reference to segregation in American’s history, in reference to religious diversity in the country:
“And 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.”
Speaking about foreign policy, Obama promised to “begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.” He spoke against terrorism, saying that America’s spirit is stronger than those who use such tactics. That spirit, he said, will always defeat terrorism.
“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness,” he said.
Obama called for a new relationship with the Muslim world “based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” He warned leaders who “seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West” that they will be judged “on what you can build, not what you destroy.” He added that leaders who use corruption and deceit are “on the wrong side of history” but that America would help them if they changed their ways.
He promised to help feed and develop nations that are not as prosperous and called for nations that are to do the same.
“And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect,” he said. “For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”
Obama told the crowd and television viewers that it was time for “a new era of responsibility,” adding that recognizing one’s duties to the country is “the price and the promise of citizenship.”
He asked Americans to contribute to the greater good of the country throughout his address, using deployed troops as an ideal example of the collaborative spirit for which they should strive.
“And yet, at this moment, a moment that will define a generation,” Obama said, “it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.”
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