On a bitterly cold day in January, thousands of Americans flooded the streets, intersections, and byways of Washington, D.C. They descended on the nation’s capital, coming from across the globe to bear witness to history. More than 1.4 million filled the National Mall and surrounded the U.S. Capitol to see Barack Hussein Obama sworn in as the first African American president of the United States.
It was a moment of pride and joy that brought tears to the eyes of many–especially those African Americans who fought the atrocities of Jim Crow and marched during the civil rights movement. Lee Archer, 90, the silver-maned former financier and member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, basked in the moment: “My son asked me why I had tears in my eyes. I told him I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life.â€
But Obama’s inauguration was a milestone that belonged to all of the nation’s citizenry; America had made an evolutionary leap. A glass ceiling had been forever shattered. A new generation of leaders had come to power.
Throngs of Americans came to see a new chief executive take the helm of the nation as it deals with what President Obama calls “the gathering clouds and raging stormsâ€ of war and financial crisis. This was the same crowd that cheered and jeered the sight of the helicopter carrying George W. Bush away, signaling the end of an administration marked by ineptitude, apathy, and neglect.
Obama’s inaugural address was short–roughly 18 minutes long–but powerful. It was more of a vision statement than a speech. He told the teeming masses that stretched 2.5 miles from the Capitol to the Washington Monument: “We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when the crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month. 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 the work of remaking America.â€
He focused on the economy, which he said demands “action, bold and swift.â€ His call for the development of a new foundation for growth emphasizes the construction of roads and bridges, the repair of electric grids, the installation of broadband technology, and investment in energy-related research and development to get America working again.
The new commander-in-chief reaffirmed the nation’s strength and influence in foreign affairs by promising open dialogue with nations large and small, but he made it clear that America will never “waver in its defense.â€ Across all issues the theme was consistent: the restoration of the country. And he was clear that the task requires an enormous commitment from government and, at the same time, sacrifice and responsibility from its citizens.
In implementing his policies, Obama stresses a government that’s action-oriented, accountable, and transparent. He demonstrated this approach during his first week, acting swiftly to roll