Obama takes charge

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Barack Hussein Obama seized his place in history as the nation’s first black president on Tuesday, beckoning his fellow Americans to move beyond divisive politics and a “collective failure to make hard choices” so that the country could conquer the “raging storms” of war and economic turmoil. Now Wednesday, the real work begins.

“We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America,” Mr. Obama declared shortly after placing his hand on a Bible once used by Abraham Lincoln as he uttered the oath of the world’s most powerful office.

Peering out from the steps of the Capitol before a record crowd, estimated as high as 2 million strong, that had engulfed the National Mall, Mr. Obama delivered an unmistakable message of civic duty and personal sacrifice that he hopes will reshape a long-divided American political landscape.

TEXT: Read the full speech here

“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,” Mr. Obama said after being sworn in at 12:05 p.m. by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who stumbled over the words of the presidential oath as he administered it to Mr. Obama.

Eager to help the new president, the Senate confirmed six of Mr. Obama’s Cabinet secretaries and his budget chief, soon after he officially submitted their nominations. But in one dissonant note, the Senate did not act on the nomination of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to be secretary of state because of the objections of one Republican senator.

The reality of the challenges facing the president hit quickly. Stocks plunged, with the Dow taking its biggest-ever Inauguration Day dive at 332 points, falling below 8,000.

Mr. Obama also was faced with the frail health of key legislative ally Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, who had a seizure at a ceremonial lunch that Mr. Obama was attending at the Capitol.

Looking to take control of the political scene, the new White House wasted little time in changing President Bush’s course. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel issued an executive order halting all pending regulations until the new administration could review them.

Later in the evening, the president and first lady Michelle Obama had their first inauguration-night dance, at the Neighborhood Ball, to Etta James’ “At Last,” sung by pop star Beyonce.

The first couple appeared to be sharing something of an intimate moment amid all the flashbulbs and screams.

“You can tell that’s a black president from the way he was moving,” actor Jamie Foxx said afterward.

It was one of 10 inaugural balls at which Mr. Obama was expected to dance, ending in the early morning hours Wednesday and capping one of the biggest celebrations Washington has ever seen, with millions standing in chilly weather for hours to be witnesses to history.

Mr. Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother, was sworn in to wild cheers and even some tears from the crowd, punctuated by a trumpets and a cannon salute.

The 44th president used his 18-minute inaugural address to demand responsibility, criticizing “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”

But he promised to lead the nation in an expansive agenda laid out during the most intense presidential campaign in history. In his address, he even promised to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil” part of a solution to the nation’s energy woes.

While giving his address, Mr. Obama looked out on a crowd that stretched from the steps beneath him out past the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial and that appeared to shimmer as hundreds of thousands of flags waved in a pale winter sunlight.

After a lunch with his former congressional colleagues, he made his way from the Capitol to his new home at the White House, thrilling the giant crowds lining Pennsylvania Avenue by getting out of his motorcade and walking part of the way, hand in hand with his wife, capping a day of adoring crowds.

“I knew it was going to be crowded, but I couldn’t miss this,” said Adrienn Chu of the District’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.

Connie Grant of Birmingham, Ala., said she got up at 3:30 a.m. to try to make her way to the Mall and was still trying three hours later, but she said that didn’t matter. “I sacrificed and came here. To me, this is very historic. I just wanted to be here,” she said.

Southeast resident Ja-lene Willis said, “I had tears running halfway [down my face]. I’m so proud to be an American.”

Minutes before Mr. Obama took his oath of office, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in by Justice John Paul Stevens.

That went off without any problem, but with Mr. Obama, Chief Justice Roberts bungled the oath, misplacing the word “faithfully” in his first go-around. Mr. Obama waited for the chief justice to correct himself before proceeding.

At the congressional lunch, Mr. Obama made sure to find Chief Justice Roberts in the room and shook hands with him. They appeared to be joking about the botched oath, with Mr. Obama pointing back and forth between himself and the chief justice.

In brief remarks at the lunch, Mr. Obama demanded hard work of his former congressional colleagues, telling them that together they must live up to the unity that Americans have demonstrated on Tuesday.

“By being here today and by participating in innumerable ways across cities and small towns and suburbs all across the country, they are demonstrating their readiness to answer history’s call and to step up and give back and take responsibility for serving the common purpose of remaking our nation,” Mr. Obama told congressional leaders.

Mr. Obama’s inauguration marks the passing of leadership from one generation — his two predecessors are both 62 years old — to a more youthful one. The new president turned 47 on Aug. 4.

And while both Mr. Bush and President Clinton declared a desire to limit government, yet oversaw its expansion, Mr. Obama said Americans must pose a new question to government.

“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,” he said. “Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.”

In his inaugural address Mr. Obama combined grim words about the nation’s situation with soaring rhetoric about its possibilities. His references to his historic achievement as the first black president were subtle, but his call for unity was clear.

“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,” the president said.

Icons of black culture were in full force at the Capitol to watch the history unfold.

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey drew squeals as she walked through the crowd beneath the platform, and even the Air Force ushers paused in their work to snap photos of her.

Sean “Diddy” Combs held a camera at arm’s length and appeared to be taking video of himself narrating the event before the swearing-in. And R&B singer Smokey Robinson hugged those around him right after Mr. Obama took the oath.

Mr. Bush, who leaves office with a legacy of questions more than answers, watched Mr. Obama take the oath from the Capitol’s West Front, then the new president saw the former president off from the East Front of the Capitol. Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, boarded a helicopter for a last ride to Andrews Air Force Base, where they flew to their new home in Texas.

Though Mr. Obama was gracious to the former president — thanking him for “the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition” — he was harsh in his own evaluation of the problems Mr. Bush has left, though not laying blame by name.

“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,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama, whose election was widely cheered around the world, also made a nod toward relations with Muslim nations, which have been frayed by Mr. Bush’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” he said, though he immediately then warned “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.”

The crowd on the Mall was not forgiving of Mr. Bush. Boos could be heard when Mr. Bush was introduced at the Capitol, and some were unwilling to let him go easily.

Twana Adams, from New York, was carrying an “Arrest Bush” sign as she walked near Union Station.

“We can’t go forward — the whole world cannot go forward — until these people get justice,” she said.

The change in administrations was immediately noticeable on www.whitehouse.gov, which debuted a new Web site with a new blog as of 12:01 p.m. The first posting to the blog vowed to remake the relationship between Americans and their government.

Mr. Obama himself signaled the new beginning from the start, right down to the license plates on his presidential limousines. Overnight, the “44” license plate he had been using to signify his place in the presidential order was replaced with one that said “1.”

The capital city was locked down under heavy security for the day, with bridge closings snarling city traffic and a flooded subway system straining to move hundreds of thousands of people.

Streets around the White House were barricaded with Humvees or, in the case of some streets where no access was allowed, by Metro buses lined up next to each other.

Mr. Obama began his day with a prayer service at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square, was prayed over at the inauguration itself by the Revs. Rick Warren and Joseph E. Lowery, and then again at the congressional lunch.

Mr. Warren, pastor of California’s Saddleback Church, called the day a “hinge-point of history with the inauguration of the first African-American president” during his invocation.

But Mr. Lowery’s benediction prayer had the crowd laughing and ready for an “amen” chorus with its plea to “help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back; when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.”

Giving the invocation at St. John’s, Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr., presiding bishop of Church of God in Christ, asked for God’s blessing so Mr. Obama and his family “may finish these two terms in office.”

In prayer after prayer, clergy portrayed Mr. Obama as the answer to trying times.

“There’s something about perilous times that God always sends the best of men,” said Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor of the Potters House in Dallas, at the same service.

Christina Bellantoni, Michael Drost and Jon Ward contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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