Obama to Nation: Let’s Pick Ourselves Up

Obama to Nation: Let’s Pick Ourselves Up

AP Photo

President Barack Obama delivers his inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009.


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Billy House
Published: January 21, 2009

WASHINGTON—Somber yet optimistic, Barack Obama was sworn-in Tuesday as the nation’s first African-American president, declaring it time for Americans to “pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin the work of remaking America.”

Looking out from the U.S. Capitol to well over 1 million people gathered in brisk temperatures on the national mall to cheer and witness history, Obama also noted that his swearing-in as president marked just how far African Americans had come.

“This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed,” Obama said, when “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

But Obama, 47, a Democrat who succeeded Republican George W. Bush to become the 44th president, did not focus at length on race.

Rather, he concentrated more on what he defined as “gathering clouds and raging storms.” He said the country finds itself in the “midst of a crisis” – at war, weakened economically, with its schools failing, its healthcare too costly, and threats to its environment.

“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,” Obama said.

“But know this America – they will be met,” Obama said.

Obama generally stayed clear of big applause lines or partisan swipes – despite the festive mood of the throng in front of him and jubilant chants of “O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!”

Muted criticism

And even though he avoided direct criticism of his predecessor, his talk of “rejecting as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” seemed to suggest a clear contrast. He also said the United States is “ready to lead once more.”

But large sections of the throng gathered on the west side of the Capital could be heard openly mocking Bush.

“Nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey, good-bye,” some in the crowd could be heard chanting as Bush arrived on the inauguration stage.

Similar mock cheers and waves goodbye occurred as Bush and his family left by helicopter after the ceremony for Andrews Air Force Base, where they were to depart by plane for Texas.

In the tradition of past presidents, officials said Bush left a personal letter in the top desk drawer for the incoming commander-in-chief, but its contents were private.

As Obama and vice president Joe Biden took their oaths of office, Florida GOP Gov. Charlie Crist, the state’s two U.S. Sens. Mel Martinez and Bill Nelson, and House members from Florida were among the dignitaries who looked on from the seats on both sides of the inauguration stage.

“Amazing,” was Martinez’s take on Obama’s speech. He said it hit the right tone with its blend of,”hope and urgency, and toughness to our enemies.”

In addition, thousands of Floridians were on hand to watch the events, having traveled to the nation’s capital to participate in a bit of history.

“We were really happy to part of such a historic day,” said Jocelyn Moore-Hill, 41, a Tampa insurance manager who had traveled to Washington with her husband and three children for the event.

A Black woman, Moore-Hill said Obama’s speech underscored how ““all Americans have an opportunity to excel in life and they are not forced to limit themselves to traditional jobs, rather we all have the opportunity to make our desires in life come true.”

Just below Obama in nearby VIP seating was a crunch of celebrities, including Jay-Z, Beyonce, Denzel Washington and Smokey Robinson.

“The world is here, and watching – and that is what’s so great,” said Robinson, looking out over the mall. “We have an elected official who has excited the whole world,” Robinson said.

Kennedy seizure

There was one awkward moment throughout the day, when Chief Justice John Roberts appeared to throw Obama off his stride by momentarily mixing up the words to the oath of office that Obama was to repeat.

The day’s events were marred in part by a reported seizure suffered by Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy at the inaugural luncheon. He was taken to a hospital and later said to be resting comfortably. Fatigue was the likely cause.

There also was an awkward moment when Chief Justice John Roberts appeared to throw Obama off his stride by momentarily mixing up the words to the oath of office that Obama was to repeat.
Later, Obama and his wife, Michelle, thrilled those who lined both sides of the route up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

And the Obamas were set to host a flurry of official inaugural dance balls in the evening, including a “Southern State Ball” for Florida and 10 other states.

U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, a Republican from Bartow, summed up the day’s events, saying it “was a breathtaking sight to gaze across the length of the Mall and see the millions who had come so far to witness this event.”

“It was a beautiful and significant moment in our history, and I’m honored to have been part of it,” Putnam said.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Republican from Palm Harbor, “One of the many characteristics of our Nation’s greatness is the peaceful transfer of presidential power. Today is a day to celebrate what makes the United States great and I congratulate President Obama.”

Reporter Billy House can be reached a .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or at 1 (202) 662-767.

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