- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Promising a “new era of responsibility,” Barack Hussein Obama Tuesday took the oath as the 44th president and first black commander-in-chief, telling a vast throng gathered to watch history that the country’s enduring strengths are more than equal to the grave challenges of the day.

On a cold, sunny, precedent-shattering January day, Mr. Obama acknowledged the scope of the crises facing the country as he takes office, but expressed confidence in the country’s ability to rise again to the task at hand.

“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America,” Mr. Obama declared moments after being sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts at 12:05 p.m. “For everywhere you look, there is work to be done.”

RELATED STORY: Text of Obama’s speech.

“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,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama, a one-term senator from Illinois, takes office at a time of economic hardship at home and two inconclusive wars abroad. His formal inauguration marked the shattering stereotypes even as he uttered an oath as old as the republic itself.

Perhaps reflecting gravity of the moment, both Mr. Obama and Chief Justice Roberts stumbled slightly over the text of the 37-word oath.

Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. were sworn in on the West Front of the Capitol, with new first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia and Sasha, outgoing President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney among those seated nearby.

After the ceremonies, Mr. Obama walked now ex-President Bush and wife Laura to a waiting military helicopter as they begin their journey back to Texas and then proceeded to a lunch in his honor at Statuary Hall inside the Capitol building. Greeted by another rendition of “Hail to the Chief,” Mr. Obama greeted friends and former Senate colleagues, but did not issue any remarks before the accompanying reporters were sent away.

After the lunch, the new president was to review the troops on the Capitol’s East Front before traveling back down Pennsylvania Avenue with his family to the reviewing stand by the White House for the inaugural parade.

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

In his speech, Mr. Obama offered a sobering account of the country’s economic and foreign policy perils, while repeatedly recalling the previous generations of Americans had faced equally critical challenges and persevered.

“That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood,” the new president said. “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.”

Beyond the problems of the moment, he said, was something “no less measurable but no less profound — 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.”

But Mr. Obama continued, “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.”

Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden began the day with a church service and a private White House talk with Mr. Bush and top congressional leaders.

Meanwhile, on foot, by car, bus and subway, a massive throng assembled on a National Mall to claim a front seat to history.

Mr. Obama, his wife Michelle and Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. began the momentous day with a private service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, the “church of the presidents” across Lafayette Square from his new home. He then met with President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and top congressional leaders at the White House before heading to the Capitol for his swearing-in ceremony at 11: 30 a.m.

Veteran civil rights activist Rev. Joseph Lowery, who marched with Martin Luther King, delivered the benediction shortly after Mr. Obama was sworn in, quoting extensively from the NAACP’s anthem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and eliciting a laugh from President Obama with a rhyming tribute to the reigning multiculturalism of the day.

Mr. Obama thanked Mr. Bush for his service to the country and his efforts in ensuring a smooth transfer of power at the very beginning of his inaugural speech. A subdued Mr. Bush greeted friends on the podium and listened solemnly to the new president’s address, rising once to join in a standing ovation when Mr. Obama issued a warning to the world’s terrorists that “we will defeat you.”

Vice President Dick Cheney arrived at the inaugural ceremony in a wheelchair, reportedly after straining a muscle packing to move out of the vice president’s residence.

Escorted by the Obamas to a military helicopter parked on the East Front of the Capitol, Mr. and Mrs. Bush lifted off at 12:56 p.m. for the first leg of their post-presidential journey to Texas. A cheer broke out on the Mall among Obama supporters when Mr. Bush’s helicopter took off.

Just under an hour later, Mr. Bush’s plane took off from Andrews Air Force Base to return to his boyhood hometown of Midland, Texas.

Aretha Franklin, cellist Yo-yo Ma and violinist Isaac Stern were among the artists who performed during the oath-taking ceremony.

Port Elizabeth Alexander offered a “Praise Song for the Day,” which concluded, “In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun./On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.”

The temperature was in for the ceremony, but a steady sun and the absence of wind made the day bearable for those in the crowd. After the ceremony concluded, revelers could be seen venturing out on the to frozen ice of the pool fronting the memorial to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant just below the inaugural stand.

Hours before the day’s festivities had begun, a vast flag-waving throng had already converged on the National Mall to claim a spot on the Mall, filling to capacity the giant expanse from 14th Street NW to the the foot of Capitol Hill by 9 a.m.

Huge, good-natured crowds shuffled out of Metro stops and bus drop-off points on their way to the daylong celebration. By 7:30 a.m, the crowd were thick from the base of Capitol Hill to the Washington Monument, eyes on the giant stage erected on the Capitol’s West Front where Mr. Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. were due to be sworn in.

Mr. Obama, the son of a black Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, heard the Marine Band strike up “Hail to the Chief” followed by a 21-gun salute moments after he formally assumed the duties of president.

The crowds began arriving at about 2 a.m. and began streaming through the checkpoints when they opened at 6 a.m.

“I knew it was going to be crowded, but I couldn’t miss this,” said Adrienn Chu, 27, of the District’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. Connie Grant of Birmingham, Ala., said she got up at 3:30 a.m. Three hours later, she was still on 7th Street NW waiting for police to clear the way into the Mall. She said the wait didn’t matter.

“I sacrificed and came here. To me, this is very historic. I just wanted to be here,” she said.

An estimated 1 to 2 million people are expected to attend the event, which has resulted in an unprecedented security effort, including more than 30,000 police and military personnel.

The Illinois senator paid homage to his state’s most famous son throughout the day. Mr. Obama will take the oath of office on the Bible used by Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural ceremony in 1861, and the theme of the day’s festivities is “A New Birth of Freedom,” a phrase taken from Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.

After the speech, Mr. Obama will attend the traditional luncheon with congressional leaders in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall and also do his first bit of paperwork as the nation’s new chief executive, signing the official nominating papers for his Cabinet members. The Senate could approve the first of those choices, including Secretary of State-designee Hillary Rodham Clinton, as early as Tuesday afternoon.

Hollywood star power was out in force during the day, a reflection of Mr. Obama’s deep support among the celebrity set. Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey and Jamie Lee Curtis was among the stars roaming the coveted grounds close by the inaugural platform.

There were early signs the massive crowds would strain the city’s resources, despite massive pre-event preparations, The streets around Union Station, two blocks from the Capitol, were thronged with people by 6:30 a.m. A river of pedestrians blocked all car traffice around the giant train station.

By 7 a.m., some 207,000 people had entered the city’s subway system, Metro officials said. Huge lines formed outside subway stations; many parking lots filled up and had to be closed.

There were a few glitches.

Not everyone who arrived at the Mall and the Capitol grounds got in, as limited space prevented many thousands from getting anywhere where the new president could be seen or heard.

Earl H. Bill, a minister from Dallas who had a “blue” ticket to gain access to the Mall, said he waited in line three hours in the cold but gave up after the queue barely moved.

“We were left out in the cold, and people are very disturbed about that — I know I am,” said Mr. Bill, 64. “I think this was a sham. I hate to say that, but it seemed that way, that we’ve been bamboozled again by hopefully a hopeful government, but it’s not that hopeful for us.”

As the minutes counted down toward Mr. Obama’s noontime swearing-in, frustration was apparent on an increasing number of faces in the crowd’s periphery.

“They’ve blocked all the entrances and we can’t get to the Mall,” said a visibly shaken Kim McIntyre, 36, of the District. “They left some of us hanging, and that’s not fair,” added Regina Dixon, 53, of the District. “It was very poor planning. They knew it was going to be like this because of the magnitude of what was taking place.”

Omoye Akhile, 19, a Howard University student, bounded up the street outside Union Station with six of her girlfriends, singing, “It’s a brand new day.”

“I feel very proud of our country that we’ve come so far,” she said. “It’s a new day because it’s a new beginning.”

Staff writers Joseph Weber, Jon Ward, Stephen Dinan, Sean Lengell and Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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