Picking Up the Pieces

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, January 21, 2009; 1:22 PM

What a difference a day makes.

Yesterday's inauguration of President Obama represented an epochal shift for this country, from a conservative leader to a liberal, from one generation to another, from a child of privilege to someone entirely self-made, and ever so poignantly, from a white man to a black man.

It also marked the purging of one cultural icon and the rise of another. George Bush leaves office as a symbol to many people of everything that's wrong with America, while Barack Obama enters the White House as a symbol to many of what's right.

Obama, for his part, pulled no punches in his Inaugural Address, casting his presidency as a restorative to Bush's.

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America," Obama said.

Though he did not blame the smallness of our politics solely on his immediate predecessor, the message was clear: To Obama, the central meaning of the day was that it represented the long overdue end of an era to which Bush was the capstone.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," Obama said.

"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility. . . .

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics."

You could even call Obama's speech chiding at times. "We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things," he said. "[O]ur time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed."

On national security, Obama audaciously rejected the key tenets of Bushism, declaring that his predecessor's abandonment of core American values and embrace of brute force had amounted to nothing less than a failure of leadership.

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," Obama said. "Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more."

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