President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on the stage at the Commander-in-Chief's Ball. Photo Credit: Roy Lewis
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Stepping into history as America's first Black president, Barack Hussein Obama said in his inaugural address Tuesday that the nation must choose "hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord'' to overcome the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
In frigid temperatures, an exuberant crowd of more than a million packed the National Mall and parade route to celebrate Obama's inauguration in a high noon ceremony. Cheering and waving, spectators stretched from the inaugural platform at the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial far in the distance.
With 11 million Americans out of work and trillions of dollars lost in the stock market's tumble, Obama emphasized that his biggest challenge is to repair the tattered economy left behind by outgoing President George W. Bush.
"Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed,'' Obama said in an undisguised shot at Bush administration policies. "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of remaking America.''
The dawn of the new Democratic era -- with Obama allies in charge of both houses of Congress -- ends eight years of Republican control of the White House by Bush, who leaves Washington as one of the nation's most unpopular and divisive presidents, the architect of two unfinished wars and the man in charge at a time of economic calamity that swept away many Americans' jobs, savings and homes.
Obama's election was cheered around the world as a sign that America will be more embracing, more open to change. "To the Muslim world,'' Obama said, "we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.''
Still, he bluntly warned, "To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West -- know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.''
Two years after beginning his improbable quest as a little-known, first-term Illinois senator with a foreign-sounding name, Obama moved into the Oval Office as the nation's fourth youngest president, at 47, and the first African American, a barrier-breaking achievement believed impossible by generations of minorities.
He said it was a moment to recall "that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.''
Obama called for a political truce in Washington to end "the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.''
He said that all Americans have roles in rebuilding the nation by renewing the traditions of hard work, honesty and fair play, tolerance, loyalty and patriotism.
"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility, a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.''
With the economy in a long and deepening recession, Obama said it was time for swift and bold action to create new jobs and lay a foundation for growth. Congressional Democrats have readied an $825 billion stimulus plan of tax cuts and spending for roads, bridges, schools, electric grids and other projects.
"The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works,'' the new president said.
A mighty chorus of cheers erupted as Obama stepped to the inaugural platform, a midday sun warming the crowd that had waited for hours in the cold. There were some boos when Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney came onto the platform.
In his remarks, Obama took stock of the nation's sobering problems.
"That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood,'' he said.
"Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age,'' Obama said. "Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.''