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Barack Obama sworn in as U.S. president, calls for ’remaking of America’

21 January 2009 at 03:15 | 1187 views

Americans need to embrace a "new era of responsibility" to remake the United States in the face of military, economic and domestic challenges, U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday in his inauguration address.

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America," said Obama, who spoke before more than one million people crowded into Washington’s National Mall, a park that stretches from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol.

Obama made the historic address shortly after he held his right hand in the air and placed his left hand on Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural Bible to take the oath of office and become the first black president of the United States.

"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," he said. "Duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship."

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wave to the crowd while walking part of the parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue. (Rob Carr/Associated Press)
Obama, a Democrat who succeeded Republican George W. Bush as president, acknowledged his oath was administered "amidst gathering clouds and raging storms" - an economy in crisis, costly health care, a faltering school system and environmental threats.

"That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood," said Obama. "The challenges we face are real.

"But know this America - they will be met," he said, drawing a massive cheer from the crowd.

Obama vowed to rebuild infrastructure, invest in scientific research, improve health care and find new sources of energy.

"Those who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account," he said.

Obama also issued a blunt warning to those who threaten the United States: "We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defence, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

Lincoln’s Bible used for oath
The 47-year-old former Illinois senator was sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Michelle Obama, wife of the president, carefully held Lincoln’s Bible, which hasn’t been used since Lincoln took the oath of office in 1861.

But Obama stopped abruptly when Roberts reversed some of the words of the 35-word oath that is prescribed by the Constitution. The oath includes the phrase "that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States," but Roberts misplaced the word "faithfully," saying it only after he said "president of the United States."

Obama appeared to realize something wasn’t right and stopped at the word "execute."

Roberts then repeated the phrase, putting "faithfully" in the right place but without repeating "execute." Obama then repeated Roberts’s original, incorrect version putting the word "faithfully" after president of the United States. They continued on from there.

Bundled against the cold but determined to witness history, hundreds of thousands of people streamed into the National Mall to witness Obama become the 44th president at noon.

"I’ve been real emotional all morning thinking about my grandmother and the heroes whose shoulders we stand on. They’d be so proud," said spectator Lyshundria Houston, who travelled 20 hours from Memphis, Tenn., to watch the inauguration ceremony in Washington.

The new president wore a red tie and white shirt with his new tuxedo made by Hart Schaffner Marx, a unionized factory in Chicago. This was topped with an overcoat adorned with an American flag pin.

Michelle Obama wore a sparkling yellow-gold sheath dress with matching coat by Cuban-born American designer Isabel Toledo. She paired the ensemble with green gloves from J. Crew and green shoes.

Bush leaves note for Obama
Security in Washington was unprecedented, with law enforcement officials scanning and scouring the area, including sharpshooters, air patrols, bomb-sniffing dogs, U.S. coast guard patrol boats along the Potomac River and more than 5,000 security cameras.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates was chosen to be the "designated successor" in case of an attack at the ceremony. In the past, presidents have designated one cabinet member or other official to take the reins of government if there is a calamity at the inauguration. Gates was kept at an undisclosed location during the event.

Obama and his wife left Blair House shortly before 9 a.m. for a private prayer service at St. John’s Episcopal Church before travelling to the White House to have coffee with the outgoing Bush. The two men, along with their families, rode together in a heavily armoured Cadillac limousine nicknamed "the beast" to the Capitol.

Officials said Bush, following in the tradition of past presidents, left a personal letter in the top desk drawer for the incoming commander-in-chief. The contents of the letter were not made public, but White House press secretary Dana Perino said Bush wished Obama well and called his term a "fabulous new chapter" in American history.

Crowds gathered early on Washington’s National Mall for the swearing-in ceremony. (Ron Edmonds/Associated Press)
Following the swearing-in ceremony, the Bush family travelled to Andrews Air Force Base to board a plane that will fly them to Midland, Texas. Later, they will travel to the family ranch in Crawford.

Balls still to come
Late in the afternoon, Obama and his wife got out of the limousine leading the inaugural parade along Pennsylvania Avenue and walked for a few blocks. Thousands of spectators lining the parade route loudly cheered as the couple, waving to the crowd, made their way down the street before returning to the car.

They were followed by more than 10,000 people representing various school bands and military honour guards, who travelled from Capitol Hill to the White House.

Obama will spend the evening attending 10 official inaugural balls.

Toronto’s Nathaniel Dett Chorale, a group dedicated to Afrocentric music, will perform as the inauguration parade passes in front of the Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue. The chorale is Canada’s gift to Obama.

"I think a lot of what Obama embodies, his message of inclusively and trying to work together as one and break down some of the walls, resonate with our mission. It’s what we try to do through our music," said chorale founder and artistic director Brainerd Blyden-Taylor.

The schedule:

11:30 a.m. ET: Obama announced at West Front of Capitol.

11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Inauguration ceremony.

12:35 p.m.: Departure ceremony for outgoing President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney.

12:45 p.m.: Signing ceremony in the President’s Room in the Capitol.

1:05 p.m.: Inaugural luncheon at Statuary Hall.

2:20 p.m.: Review of troops on East Front.

2:25 to 6 p.m.: The 56th Inaugural Parade travels down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.

8 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.: Obama to appear at 10 inaugural balls.
About 1,000 people are invited to a "tailgate" party on the embassy’s raised courtyard, which offers one of the best views of the Capitol. Guests will dine on Alberta grilled sausages, Canadian beer and BeaverTails, the deep-fried pastry popular among skaters on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.

In Lincoln’s footsteps
Celebrations for the next presidency began on the weekend, with Obama’s whistle-stop tour from Philadelphia to Washington, along the path Lincoln took in 1861. That followed a celebrity-filled concert where several hundred thousand people flanked the reflecting pool, hearing actors, singers and then Obama himself rally for national renewal.

On Monday evening, Obama attended three private dinners to honour former secretary of state Colin Powell, Biden, a longtime senator from Delaware, and Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

Michelle Obama hosted a children’s evening concert.

On the eve of the inauguration, Prime Minister Stephen Harper (of Canada) wished the president-elect well, but added that "nobody is under any illusion" about the challenges he faces, including the economic meltdown.

"If I were in his position, on the economic side, there would be two [priorities] high on my list. One is the stimulus package and getting that right," he said.

Harper also urged Obama to continue trying to stabilize the financial sector in the United States.

"This will remain a major challenge to the world economy until it is fixed," he added.

Full text of Barack Obama’s inaugural address

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and co-operation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. 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. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come 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.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labour, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and travelled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun, and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, 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 - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, 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 favours 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.

As for our common defence, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater co-operation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the spectre of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defence, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; 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.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honour them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. 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. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. 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, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men, and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have travelled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"’Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive ... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].’"

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. 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.