A Historic Inauguration Draws Throngs To the Mall
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office as the nation's first African American president yesterday, summoning a vast crowd and a watching nation to the task of reviving a country in crisis.
The inauguration of the 44th president, who made "hope" and "change" the bywords of his improbable campaign, took place amid a building air of anticipation in Washington. A city that had braced for record-breaking attendance swelled with visitors who would, at least briefly, nearly double its population. Before dawn yesterday, more than 1 million people began streaming into the city to bear witness to the event, brushing aside the frigid temperatures and travel problems.
As he spoke, Obama looked out at a sea of admirers, some of whom had camped out overnight in tents or made long treks by bus and Metro. By the end of the day, those spectators lined the route of Obama's procession to the White House, chanting his name and straining for a glimpse of the new president.
Obama made only glancing references to the racial barrier that had fallen with his historic ascent. Instead, in an 18 1/2 -minute speech notable for its somber tone as much as its soaring rhetoric, he outlined the challenges of what he called "this winter of our hardship": a collapsing economy, wars on two fronts, a lack of confidence in government and enemies eager to destroy the American way of life.
"We must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America," Obama told the throng, which stretched from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.
Obama was accompanied to the West Front of the Capitol by President Bush. At the stroke of noon, the man who had served not even a full term in the U.S. Senate became the nation's commander in chief, and at 12:04 p.m., he was sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
Obama took the oath by stating his full given name, which he had once said opponents had used to try to set him apart from mainstream America.
It was the first time Roberts had administered the oath -- and the first time any chief justice had sworn in a president who voted against his confirmation -- and both men stumbled over the words. But the sight of the two youthful leaders -- Roberts, 53, the second-youngest chief justice, and Obama, 47, the fourth-youngest man elected president -- underscored the theme of generational change.
So did the presence of Michelle Obama, 45, and the couple's two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, dressed in candy-colored tones of blue and pink.
Continuity was marked by the swearing-in of former senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), 66, as vice president, the oath administered by 88-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens.
Obama laid his hand on the burgundy-velvet-covered Bible that Abraham Lincoln used for his inauguration in 1861, and history again trembled. The chief justice that day was Marylander Roger B. Taney, who wrote the Dred Scott decision that said blacks could never be citizens. The Constitution, he said, recognized blacks as "beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations."
In his address, Obama struck an especially stern note on the country's economic distress, saying there had been a "collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age," leading to dire declines in the housing and job markets, the education system, and health care. He called for "a new era of responsibility" but devoted even more attention to a nation that has seen its collective morale shaken by wars abroad and an economic downturn at home.