In frigid temperatures, an exuberant crowd of more than a million packed the National Mall and parade route to celebrate Obama’s inauguration in a high-noon ceremony.
Waving and cheering in jubilation, they stretched from the inaugural platform at the U.S. Capitol toward the Lincoln Memorial in the distance.
With 11 million Americans out of work and trillions of dollars lost in the stock market’s tumble, Obama emphasized that his biggest challenge is to repair the tattered economy left behind by outgoing President George W. Bush.
“Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed,” Obama said. “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of remaking America.”
Two years after beginning his improbable quest as a little-known, first-term Illinois senator with a foreign-sounding name, Obama moved into the Oval Office as the nation’s fourth-youngest president, at 47, and the first African-American, a barrier-breaking achievement believed impossible by generations of minorities.
He said it was a moment to recall “that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” In another racial reference, he paid tribute to workers in the past who “endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.”
Obama’s election was cheered around the world as a sign that America will be more embracing, more open to change. “To the Muslim world,” Obama said, “we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
Still, he bluntly warned, “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,” Obama said in his address, which ran 18 1/2 minutes.
A mighty chorus of cheers erupted as he stepped to the inaugural platform, a midday sun warming the crowd that had waited for hours in the cold. There were some boos when Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney came onto the platform.
Obama called for a political truce in Washington to end “the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.”
He said that all Americans have roles in rebuilding the nation by renewing the traditions of hard work, honesty and fair play, tolerance, loyalty and patriotism.
The son of a white, Kansas-born mother and a black, Kenya-born father, Obama decided to use his full name in the swearing-in ceremony.
To the dismay of liberals, Obama invited conservative evangelical pastor Rick Warren — an opponent of gay rights — to give the inaugural invocation.
Among the VIPs at the Capitol was pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the hero of last week’s US Airways crash into the Hudson River.
In an appeal for bipartisanship, Obama honored defeated Republican presidential rival John McCain at a dinner Monday night. “There are few Americans who understand this need for common purpose and common effort better than John McCain,” Obama said.
Young and untested, Obama is a man of enormous confidence and electrifying oratorical skills. Hopes for Obama are extremely high, suggesting that Americans are willing to give him a long honeymoon to strengthen the economy and lift the financial gloom.