President Obama focuses on challenging times, pragmatism

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Barack Obama took the presidential oath of office early Tuesday afternoon, becoming the nation's 44th president and its first black president.

Speaking before an estimated 2 million-strong crowd spanning the length of the National Mall, Obama issued a somber but stirring call for renewed responsibility and unity in a time of crisis.

"The challenges we face are real," he said. "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."

In his 18-minute address, the new president urged a unified, non-ideological approach to the challenges facing the country. He declared that America would regain its role as a world leader and said bold new ideas should go hand-in-hand with America's founding values.

"The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified," Obama said.

After thanking outgoing President George W. Bush in his opening comments, Obama pledged not to compromise safety or ideals.

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," he said. "Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake."

He also emphasized that science would again play a major role in policymaking.

Though Obama has both drawn and invited comparisons to Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, it was George Washington he invoked in his closing. After quoting a message Washington sent to the people of America while camped at Valley Forge, Obama called for citizens to remember the first president's exhortation.

"Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations," he said.

Starting as early as 4 a.m., visitors had journeyed into the city on foot, in cars, by bus and by train. Many streets within the District, as well as bridges from Virginia, were closed to private cars as the region braced for record inauguration crowds. As hundreds of thousands strained to find spots to view the swearing-in, a separate crowd filled the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue, lining up rows deep beginning around 7 a.m.

If the 2-million visitor estimate was correct, it would be the city's largest gathering in history, news outlets reported. Onlookers waited in lines several blocks long to get onto the Mall. They hailed from across the country, many of them sporting buttons, hats and shirts emblazoned with the new president's name, and all of them bundled against the bitter cold.

The significance of a black man's rise to the presidency was not lost on the crowd, many of whom were black. The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a former colleague of Martin Luther King Jr. and who spoke at Duke Sunday, delivered the ceremony's benediction. The president also acknowledged the milestone.

"This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall," he said. "And why 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."

The mood was both jubilant and solemn. After hours spent jockeying for position and cheering in excited anticipation, the crowd grew silent and attentive as Obama took the oath and delivered his address.

About 100 Duke students attended the Inauguration by bus through the Office of Student Activities and Facilities, and many others attended on their own.

Junior Mariana Krueger, the daughter of former Sen. Robert Krueger, D-Texas, witnessed the ceremony with seats close to the U.S. Capitol.

"It was a distinct difference between where we were sitting and the people on the Mall," she said. "Where we were sitting people were a little more composed generally.... Everyone was really upbeat and energetic, definitely like-minded."

Despite getting little sleep, students who rode to D.C. on OSAF's Duke Destinations bus said viewing the Inauguration in person was more than worthwhile.

"It was just being in the excitement of the moment and feeling it in the air," said sophomore Lindsey Wallace, who attended through OSAF.

Will Robinson contributed reporting. This story has been corrected and updated; 11:38 p.m. 01/21/09


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