January 20, 2009: The Barack Obama Inauguration


The Inauguration of President Barack Obama


OathDoug Mills/The New York Times

In Focus: Stats

  • Americans flooded D.C. for historic presidential inauguration: They came from across America, a buoyant and determined crowd of well over 1 million people, confronting numbing cold and logistical disarray to witness a profound moment in history. – NJ.com, 1-20-09
  • Crowds of 1 million or more test US capital: More than 1 million people crammed onto the National Mall and along the inauguration parade route Tuesday to celebrate the swearing-in of the nation’s first black president in what was one of the largest-ever gatherings in the nation’s capital. The Associated Press based its estimate on crowd photographs and comparisons with past events. – IHT, 1-20-09
  • INAUGURATION JOLTS INTERNET: President Obama’s inauguration sparked significant traffic jams – not only on Washington’s streets but in cyberspace as well, according to Web performance monitors. They reported slowdowns at the Web sites run by the White House and the U.S. Senate as well as at several online news outlets. – MSNBC, 1-20-09
  • Barack Obama inauguration: his worst speech: QUITE a day, but not much of speech unfortunately. Obama got where he is by speechifying, but this effort would not have won him many votes. It was his worst on a grand stage, though still better than most politicians could muster. The delivery, as ever, was first class, but the message was wasn’t clear enough and the language not insufficiently inspiring. – Telegraph UK, 1-20-09


WalkingPresident Obama and the First Lady walking on Pennsylvania Avenue during his inaugural parade. (Jae Hong/Associated Press)

The Headlines…

    President Barack Obama: New White House website

  • Obama Is Sworn In as the 44th President: Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday before a massive crowd reveling in a moment of historical significance, and called on Americans to confront together an economic crisis that he said was caused by “our collective failure to make hard choices.” – NYT, 1-20-09
  • Having a Ball: The Obamas have been zooming through their 10 official balls and are now running more than an hour ahead of schedule. The whole ball tour was supposed to end at 2:55 a.m., but they’re wrapping it up before 12:45. And who can blame them? By the fifth and sixth of these things, the First Couple was clearly operating on fumes. – NYT, 1-20-09
  • Obamas dance to ‘At Last’ at Neighborhood Ball: “At Last” may have been just what President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle were thinking Tuesday night as they glided through their first inaugural dance to the Etta James classic. – AP, 1-20-09
  • Obama takes power, urges unity vs. ‘raging storms’: Before a jubilant crowd of more than a million, Barack Hussein Obama claimed his place in history as America’s first black president, summoning a dispirited nation to unite in hope against the “gathering clouds and raging storms” of war and economic woe. – AP, 1-20-09
  • Sen. Kennedy OK after seizure at Obama’s luncheon: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, ill with a brain tumor, was hospitalized Tuesday but quickly reported feeling well after suffering a seizure at a post-inauguration luncheon for President Barack Obama. – AP, 1-20-09
  • Relationship gets official for Roberts and Obama: Chief Justice John Roberts swore in Barack Obama as president Tuesday in the first of what could be many important interactions for the two men of differing politics who rose quickly to power. The encounter was briefly awkward after Obama stepped on Roberts’ opening lines from the 35-word constitutionally prescribed oath of office. The chief justice then wandered into a verbal detour of his own. AP, 1-20-09
  • Thousands welcome the Bushes back to Texas: A large crowd in Waco greets former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, on Tuesday. George W. Bush basked in the warmth of an enthusiastic Texas crowd on Tuesday as thousands came from all across the state to welcome him home after eight years in the White House. – AP, 1-20-09
  • Gone to Texas: Bush returns to state he loves: Leaving the White House for the last time on Tuesday, President George W. Bush blew a kiss out the window of his presidential limousine, a gesture that capped an eight-year administration marked by two wars, recession and the biggest terrorist attack on U.S. soil. – AP, 1-20-09
  • Bush exits White House, goes home to Texas: After eight years in office, Bush flew home to Texas, where he was welcomed at a rally in Midland, before ending the day at his Crawford ranch. – Reuters, 1-20-09
  • Staff emotional as President George W. Bush passes reins to Barack Obama: President Bush took a final solo stroll on the South Lawn and later blew a departing kiss to the White House on Tuesday to end two terms marked by crisis at home and abroad. – NY Daily News, 1-20-09
  • Obama Renovates WhiteHouse.gov: Before Barack Obama even finished taking the oath of office, the White House site switched over to the Obama administration’s version. Macon Phillips, who identified himself as the director of new media for the White House, wrote a post describing the features of the new site. NYT, 1-20-09
  • A Day of New Beginnings for Michelle Obama and Her Daughters: On Inauguration Day, President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, became the first black family to move into the White House. – NYT, 1-20-09
  • Inaugural prayers aim for a more diverse America: Evangelical pastor Rick Warren, whose participation drew criticism from liberals and gay rights groups, directly invoked Jesus as expected in his invocation, but did so personally. “I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life,” he prayed. He also quoted from the most important prayer in Judaism, the Sh’ma, when he said, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One,” and he called God “the compassionate and merciful one,” a phrase from Muslim devotion. “His was as inclusive a prayer as an evangelical can give,” said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif. – AP, 1-20-09
  • Obama inauguration: George Bush – the man who was no longer president: 43rd president leaves note in the Resolute desk for successor — Bushes head to Midland, Texas after ceremony – Guardian, UK, 1-20-09
  • In Bipartisan Appeal, Obama Praises McCain and Powell: In a major bipartisan appeal on the eve of his inauguration, Barack Obama held dinners Monday evening for Republicans Colin Powell and John McCain, praising both to the skies and perhaps making a down payment on future political success. – NYT, Caucus Blog, 1-19-09


Inaugural speech“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” President Obama said. (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

    MP3 Download

  • My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.
    I thank President Bush for his service to our nation…… as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
    Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.
    The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
    So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
    That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. 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….
    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. 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.
    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.
    We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
    In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less.
    It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.
    Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom….
    This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed.
    Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
    For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.
    All this we can do. All this we will do….
    The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, hether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.
    Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end….
    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.
    We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We’ll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan….
    And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, “Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”
    For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.
    And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace….
    As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.
    We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service: a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.
    And yet, at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
    For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies….
    Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old.
    These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.
    What is demanded then is a return to these truths. 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.
    This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
    This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
    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. 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.
    So let us mark this day in remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.
    In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by nine campfires on the shores of an icy river.
    The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.
    At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
    “Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.”
    America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; 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.
    Thank you. God bless you.
    And God bless the United States of America.


Wave, President Bush


  • President Obama Inaugural Balls Comments: Today was your day. Today was a day that represented all your efforts, all your faith, all your confidence in what’s possible in America. They said it couldn’t be done. And you did it….
    There is something in the spirit of the American people that insists on recreating this country when we get a little bit off course. That’s what powered this election, it’s what’s given our team the kind of energy that has allowed us to overcome extraordinary obstacles and given me so much confidence that our better days are ahead…. That this is not the end, this is the beginning….
    When you look at the history of this campaign, what started out as an improbable journey, where nobody gave us a chance, was carried forward by, was inspired by, was driven by, was energized by young people all across America….
    I can’t tell you how many people have come up to Michelle and myself and said, ‘You know, I was kind of skeptical, but then my daughter, she wouldn’t budge, she just told me I needed to vote for Obama.’ Or, ‘Suddenly I saw my son, he was out volunteering and knocking on doors and traveling and getting involved like never before.’ And so new generations inspired previous generations, and that’s how change happens in America. And as this is broadcast all around the world. We know that young people everywhere are in the process of imagining something different than what has come before. Where there is war, they imagine peace. Where there is hunger, they imagine people being able to feed themselves. Where there is disease, they imagine a public health system that works for everybody. Where there is bigotry, they imagine togetherness. The future will be in your hands if you are able to sustain the kind of energy and focus that you showed on this campaign. I promise you that America will get stronger and more united, more prosperous, more secure — you are going to make it happen, and Michelle and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts….
    Every day that I’m in the White House, I’ll try to serve you as well as you serve America. We will write the next great chapter in America’s story. – NYT, 1-20-09
  • George W. Bush Homecoming Speech in Midland, TX: “I always felt it was important to tackle the tough issues today and not try to them on to future presidents, and future generations. I never took an opinion poll to tell me what to think. And I’m coming home with my head held high and a sense of accomplishment.
    There were some good days and there were some tough days but every day was an honor to be your president. I gave it my all. Listen. Sometimes what I did wasn’t popular, but that’s okay, I always did what I thought was right….
    Popularity is as fleeting as the Texas wind; character and conscious are as sturdy as our oaks.
    History will be the judge of my decisions, but when I walked out of the Oval Office this morning, I left with the same values that I took to Washington eight years ago. And when I get home tonight and look in the mirror, I’m not going to regret what I see — except maybe some gray hair….
    My dad is America’s only sky-diving former president and that’s a title he’s going to keep.”
    In the morning, he said, he would make his wife coffee, “skim” the newspaper, call some friends, read a book, feed the dogs, go fishing, take a walk and by that time it will be 8 in the morning. “That’s what happens when you’re a type A personality. I told Laura I was excited about her cooking again — kinda. She told me she was excited about me mowing the lawn and taking out the trash –- it’s my new domestic agenda.
    I’m the first former president to be able to share the post-presidency with both my parents.
    I want people to be able to understand what it was like in the Oval Office when I had to make some of the tough decisions that I was called upon to make. History tends to take a little time for people to remember what happened and to have an objective accounting of what took place and I’d like to be a part of making a real history of this administration come to life.” NYT, 1-20-09
Bushes and ObamasIn an inaugural tradition, the Bushes welcomed the Obamas to the White House for tea. Michelle Obama’s outfit was designed by Isabel Toledo. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)
  • Bush Says Decisions in Office Kept America Safe From Attack: President Bush says in his farewell address that he is “filled with gratitude,” and that the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama represents a “moment of hope and pride” for the country.
    Fellow citizens, for eight years, it has been my honor to serve as your president. The first decade of this new century has been a period of consequence, a time set apart.
    Tonight, with a thankful heart, I have asked for a final opportunity to share some thoughts on the journey we have traveled together and the future of our nation….
    Tonight, I am filled with gratitude to Vice President Cheney and members of the administration; to Laura, who brought joy to this house and love to my life; to our wonderful daughters, Barbara and Jenna; to my parents, whose examples have provided strength for a lifetime.
    And above all, I thank the American people for the trust you have given me. I thank you for the prayers that have lifted my spirits. And I thank you for the countless acts of courage, generosity and grace that I have witnessed these past eight years.
    This evening, my thoughts return to the first night I addressed you from this house, September 11, 2001. That morning, terrorists took nearly 3,000 lives in the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor….
    As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did. Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our nation. And I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe.
    Over the past seven years, a new Department of Homeland Security has been created. The military, the intelligence community, and the FBI have been transformed. Our nation is equipped with new tools to monitor the terrorists’ movements, freeze their finances, and break up their plots….
    There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions. But there can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil. This is a tribute to those who toil night and day to keep us safe — law enforcement officers, intelligence analysts, homeland security and diplomatic personnel, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.
    Our nation is blessed to have citizens who volunteer to defend us in this time of danger. I have cherished meeting these selfless patriots and their families. And America owes you a debt of gratitude. And to all our men and women in uniform listening tonight: There has been no higher honor than serving as your Commander-in-Chief….
    Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I’ve always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right. You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.
    The decades ahead will bring more hard choices for our country, and there are some guiding principles that should shape our course.
    While our nation is safer than it was seven years ago, the gravest threat to our people remains another terrorist attack. Our enemies are patient, and determined to strike again. America did nothing to seek or deserve this conflict. But we have been given solemn responsibilities, and we must meet them. We must resist complacency. We must keep our resolve. And we must never let down our guard.
    ….In the 21st century, security and prosperity at home depend on the expansion of liberty abroad. If America does not lead the cause of freedom, that cause will not be led.
    As we address these challenges — and others we cannot foresee tonight — America must maintain our moral clarity. I’ve often spoken to you about good and evil, and this has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two of them there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense — and to advance the cause of peace.
    President Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” As I leave the house he occupied two centuries ago, I share that optimism. America is a young country, full of vitality, constantly growing and renewing itself. And even in the toughest times, we lift our eyes to the broad horizon ahead.
    I have confidence in the promise of America because I know the character of our people. This is a nation that inspires immigrants to risk everything for the dream of freedom. This is a nation where citizens show calm in times of danger, and compassion in the face of suffering. We see examples of America’s character all around us….
    In citizens like these, we see the best of our country – resilient and hopeful, caring and strong. These virtues give me an unshakable faith in America. We have faced danger and trial, and there’s more ahead. But with the courage of our people and confidence in our ideals, this great nation will never tire, never falter, and never fail.
    It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your President. There have been good days and tough days. But every day I have been inspired by the greatness of our country, and uplifted by the goodness of our people. I have been blessed to represent this nation we love. And I will always be honored to carry a title that means more to me than any other – citizen of the United States of America.
    And so, my fellow Americans, for the final time: Good night. May God bless this house and our next President. And may God bless you and our wonderful country. Thank you. – Fox News, 1-15-09
  • Cheney Mocks Biden, Defends Rumsfeld in ‘FOX News Sunday’ Interview: In one of his last interviews before leaving Washington, D.C., Vice President Cheney, a 40-year veteran of Washington politics, tried to straighten out a few misconceptions about his tenure and the way the executive and legislative branches are supposed to work.
    He also said that all the powers and responsibilities of the executive branch are laid out in Article I of the Constitution. Well, they’re not. Article I of the Constitution is the one on the legislative branch. Joe’s been chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a member of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate for 36 years, teaches constitutional law back in Delaware, and can’t keep straight which article of the Constitution provides for the legislature and which provides for the executive. So I think I’d write that off as campaign rhetoric. I don’t take it seriously.
    If he wants to diminish the office of the vice president, that’s obviously his cal. President-elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president and apparently, from the way they’re talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I have had during my time….
    The president of the United States now for 50 years is followed at all times, 24 hours a day, by a military aide carrying a football that contains the nuclear codes that he would use and be authorized to use in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States. He could launch the kind of devastating attack the world has never seen.
    He doesn’t have to check with anybody. He doesn’t have to call the Congress. He doesn’t have to check with the courts. He has that authority because of the nature of the world we live in.
    I did disagree with the decision. The president doesn’t always take my advice.
    We’ve been here for eight years now, eventually you wear out your welcome in this business but I’m very comfortable with where we are and what we’ve achieved substantively. And frankly I would not want to be one of those guys who spends all his times reading the polls. I think people like that shouldn’t serve in these jobs. – Fox News, 1-21-09


(Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Historians’ Comments

  • Julian Zelizer “Obama speech draws on past inaugurations”: “I think the message he wanted to convey was to give a sober, serious, laundry-list, speech. The point was the campaign is over and it’s time to work,” Princeton University presidential historian Julian Zelizer said.
    “He spoke about trying to find which government programs worked and which didn’t, to overcome old divisions,” he said, noting Obama’s use of a biblical line from Corinthians to urge the nation “to set aside childish things”.
    “If this turns into an FDR-like Hundred Days, I think the overall tenor of the address will be what we discuss rather than one line or another,” Zelizer added. – The Age, Australia, 1-20-09
  • Timothy Garton Ash “Obama Promises the World a Renewed America “: “We have entered a period of historical transition in which the United States will become first among equals, rather than simply top dog, hyperpower and unquestioned hegemon,” said Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European studies at Oxford. “But for Europeans, it may be a case of being careful what you wish for, because the Obama administration is likely to say, ‘Good, then put your money where your mouth is, and in the first place, put more troops in Afghanistan.'” – NYT, 1-20-09
  • Julian Zelizer “A fitting speech for a time of a crisis”: And for Princeton professor Julian Zelizer, one line particularly stood out: “One of the most important lines was ‘What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them.’ If any of our recent presidents had said this, the line would quickly be forgotten, more false promises by the new kid in town,” Zelizer says. “But this time it seems different. Never has there been a leader whose presidency in itself is a sign that the possibility of change is real in American politics.” – First Post, UK, 1-20-09
  • Historians Offer Post-Speech Analysis: Video Online – PBS Newshour, 1-20-09
  • ELLEN FITZPATRICK, University of New Hampshire “Obama Claims Presidency, Cites Challenges Ahead”: The suddenness of it I think is striking in one sense, and yet one could argue that it took our entire history to get us to the place that we are today, that is, we crossed the threshold of American history today. This was truly a historic moment in electing and inaugurating our first African-American president. And I think the day was very rich in history. And the people on the mall came because they were conscious of that and moved by it. You could feel it and see it in the crowd.
    I think it’s actually — I dissent a little bit, I think, from the sentiment that’s shaping up and to say that I think it was an extraordinarily powerful speech. And the pageantry and that element that Richard just mentioned was surely there, but embedded in it was a critique that we have strayed far from our founding. He asked us to choose our better history, and it was an unvarnished view of American history that he offered. There was that phrase, “We have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, but we’ve triumphed over these tragedies and the hatred of our past.” And so, in that sense, he was seizing the historic occasion of his inauguration and using it as a way to call Americans back to their origins. And there was a critique here of where we’ve been. He said, “We don’t have to choose between our safety and our ideals.” That, to me, was a reference to the abrogation, or so he would argue, I would say, from those ideals through the war on terror. So it was a very powerful cry to remake America by drawing on our fundamental historical values.
    Well, I think in some ways that it was somber in the way these speeches tend to be. I think that, in a sense, as an African-American, he writes in his biography about remaking himself, by going back to the well of the past, that he’s called America back to the well of its own past. And I think in evoking segregation, the civil war and the tragedies of America’s racial history, in a sense, as an African-American, he is singularly well-placed to be mindful that history is full of tragedy. He’ll be the least surprised, I suspect, of any president about the tragedies that may unfold under his watch. – PBS Newshour, 1-20-09
  • PENIEL JOSEPH, Brandeis University “Obama Claims Presidency, Cites Challenges Ahead”: Well, in terms of historically, there’s very few days that actually transform the aesthetics of our democracy. The memory that this day invokes the most is probably the march on Washington, August 28, 1963. Forty-five years and five months ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., came to the Lincoln Memorial with really an expansive vision of American democracy. In that speech, King talked about the previous 100 years, especially the civil war, slavery. In this speech, the president-elect really — or the president really elegantly evoked race. He didn’t make race the central point of his speech, but he acknowledged the notion of slavery, the notion of Jim Crow segregation, and the notion that his father actually couldn’t have been seated at a restaurant 45 years ago.
    Well, three speeches come to mind. One, FDR’s first inauguration in 1933, where he really had an expansive critique of capitalism sort of run amok. In 1941, FDR has a speech where he talks about democracy and uses the word democracy about two dozen times in his inaugural address and basically makes the argument that democracy will not die because the spirit and faith of American people won’t let it die. And the final one is John F. Kennedy, Kennedy’s speech about a new generation of Americans and a new generation taking the leadership. Obama’s speech really evokes all of that, but the twist is really the iconography. I think one of the reasons why some of the commentators are saying that the speech was only good and not great is because the pageantry, like Richard talked about and Ellen talked about, is really overwhelming all of us. But when you really read the speech — and I’m not sure this crowd got the substantive nature of this speech — the speech substantively matches the overwhelming symbolism of the day.
    Well, I agree. I concur. I think that this speech really links the notion of race in a democracy in an expansive way. Historically, race has been a paradoxical part of American democracy. In this speech, we crossed the Rubicon, so to speak, as a nation, not turning the page on racism, but turning the page on really a tragic racial past. And it makes an argument that race actually is a strength of the democracy, rather than a weakness. – PBS Newshour, 1-20-09
  • RICHARD BROOKHISER, National Review “Obama Claims Presidency, Cites Challenges Ahead”: Well, no, you can’t, but I was struck today by the kind of pageant of confirmation that this whole day was. And there have been some of those in the American past, where people sort of collectively get together and say, “Yes, we like this. This is good.” Washington’s First Inaugural was like that. The government was new. The Constitution was new. The great war hero was coming back to lead it. You know, he went from Mount Vernon to New York. It was like a six-day triumphal progress. And then the numbers were much smaller, but in terms of percentage of population, it was maybe equal or even greater to the turnout we had today. But it was just like a collective embracing of the moment and saying, “We’re happy to be here.” And I got a feeling of that watching this day as it unfolded.
    Well, it was, but, you know, history always gives people surprises. Now, eight years ago, George W. Bush was coming in, and he did not imagine he was going to be fighting two wars. I mean, no one would have. And there was a foreign policy component of this speech. He did mention that. He made the points that you touched on. He also addressed our enemies and said, “We will defeat you.” But, you know, the enemies will have the freedom of action, also. And they will try and pick and choose their battles. And now all those phone calls are coming to our new president, many of which we will never hear about, but, you know, the killers are out there. They’re still after us. Now there’s a new commander- in-chief who will have to deal with them.
    Well, you know, we have a sense of where he would like to go, and now the work begins. And it was a very, I think, kind of an ambitious, if open-ended sort of a vision, but, you know, now there’s — now the follow-up will come. – PBS Newshour, 1-20-09
  • Gil Troy “Religious Figures, Kennedy, Oprah Nab Hot Inauguration Seats Obama Families Seen Alongside Politicians, Celebs at the Hotly Anticipated Event “: “The simple fact that they give a ticket to one person and not others … becomes tremendously important,” said Gil Troy, professor of history at McGill University in Montreal, and a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “You are setting up a historic tableau. … Each one of them [the guests] is carrying a different part of the narrative, not just your personal narrative but being weaved into the political narrative of United States history.”…
    “It needs to be used carefully and effectively so that you can turn all this symbolic hour into real political opportunity and power,” Troy said. “The inauguration has to be an opportunity of looking forward to starting the presidency.” – ABC News, 1-20-09
  • Nikki Brown “A Day of New Beginnings for Michelle Obama and Her Daughters”: “A part of what this family is going to do is to show that families of color are not so different,” said Nikki Brown, an assistant professor of history at the University of New Orleans. “That’s what I see, when I see them on TV: a working father, a working mother, a grandmother that cares for the babies, children that are doing well in school,” Ms. Brown said. “That’s a narrative that the country is still trying to create a language for, normal families of color.” – NYT, 1-20-09
Barack and Michelle Obama danced to Beyoncé Knowles singing “At Last.” (Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times)

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance at the Commander in Chief Inaugural Ball at the National Building Museum in Washington, Tuesday. AP/Charles DharapakDancing queen: President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama dance at the Commander in Chief Inaugural Ball at the National Building Museum in Washington, Tuesday. AP/Charles Dharapak

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