Mr. President

Barack Hussein Obama claimed his place in history as America’s first black president Tuesday, summoning a dispirited and divided nation to unite in hope against the ‘gathering clouds and raging storms’ of unfinished war and grave economic woe.

A jubilant crowd of more than a million waited for hours in frigid temperatures to witness the moment as a young black man with a foreign-sounding name took command of a nation founded by slaveholders. It was a scene watched in fascination by many millions – perhaps billions – around the world.

‘We gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord,’ the nation’s 44th president said.

The presidency passed to Democrat Obama from Republican George W. Bush at the stroke of noon, marking one of democracy’s greatest gifts: the peaceful transfer of power.

‘What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly,’ Obama said. ‘This is the price and the promise of citizenship.’

It was a day of high spirits – jarred by sudden concern about the health of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a legendary Democrat who is suffering from brain cancer and was rushed to a hospital from a Senate luncheon after the swearing-in. ‘My prayers are with him and his family and (Kennedy’s wife) Vicki,’ Obama said. Later, fellow Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said Kennedy was laughing and joking at the hospital and itching to get back to work.

On the inaugural parade oute, Obama and his wife, Michelle, climbed out of the heavily armored presidential limousine and walked a few blocks along famed Pennsylvania Avenue, waving to adoring crowds under the watchful eyes of security agents.
Obama wove a thread of personal responsibility and accountability through his inaugural address, an 18-minute sermon on civic duty.

‘It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours,’ he said. ‘Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America.’

He alluded to the inability – or unwillingness – of Americans to adjust to the passing of an industrial-based economy. ‘Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age,’ he said. With that, the 47-year-old former Illinois senator has transformed himself – from a candidate claiming his campaign is about the voters to a president promising to put the nation in the people’s hands.

Unlike most predecessors, Obama takes office with his agenda in many ways set for him.
This agenda includes an economy that seems more foreboding than at any inauguration since Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, with some 11 million people now out of work, and trillions of dollars of stock market investments lost. Two wars, one in Iraq that most of the country has long wanted over and another in Afghanistan that is spiraling downward and needs an overhaul. The continuing fear of another calamitous terrorist attack is not out of the question.

More inspirational than prescriptive, Obama’s inaugural address only glancingly mentioned a series of promises from his campaign: to get the U.S. out of Iraq, stabilize Afghanistan, create jobs, ‘restore science to its rightful place,’ boost the use of alternative energy, address climate change, transform schools, manage government spending wisely and oversee a more bipartisan, less-divisive approach to policy-making.
To a world eager for his leadership to replace Bush’s, Obama had welcome words: ‘We are ready to lead once more.’

Obama, however, thanked Bush for his service as president and never directly criticized him. But he also repeatedly talked of the need to abandon current practices,’ ‘the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics,’ the lack of a watchful eye on financial markets, and what he called a false choice between safety and ideals – a reference to brutal interrogation practices and other actions taken by the Bush administration in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

‘With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come,’ Obama said.
As one of his first official acts, Obama signed a presidential proclamation declaring Jan. 20 a ‘National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation.’