PRESIDENT OBAMA INAUGURATION – REPORT
Obama inauguration: We will remake America, vows President Obama
America’s first black president promises to roll back Bush years and restore nation’s moral standing
Barack Hussein Obama, the US president, ushered in a new era of Democratic rule today with a promise to begin rolling back the Bush years and restore the nation’s moral standing in the world.
The 44th president, speaking in front of the biggest inauguration crowd in US history, said: “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America.”
An estimated 2 million people, wrapped up against the winter cold, many of them in place since dawn, filled the Mall to see Obama sworn in as America’s first black president. A big proportion of the crowd was African-American, many having travelled from across the continent to witness the historic moment.
Large numbers also took the opportunity to celebrate the departure of George Bush, who leaves office with some of the lowest popularity ratings in recent US history. He was jeered as he emerged from the Capitol building for the inauguration ceremony, with a derisive chant of “Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.” There were more cheers as a helicopter carrying him to retirement took off from Capitol Hill an hour later.
Obama’s speech was frequently inspirational, though he failed to find a phrase that is likely to resound down the generations, as Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy did with their inaugural speeches.
Much of the new president’s oratory turned into an indictment of his predecessor. Obama focused on George Bush’s abandoning of basic legal and human rights after the 9/11 attacks, rejecting as false the former president’s choice between security and American ideals. One of Obama’s first acts will be to order the closure of the Guantánamo detention centre.
Heralding his new administration as ushering in “an era of responsibility”, he set out a New Deal-style programme to tackle the recession by building roads and bridges, electric grids and “digital lines”.
His administration would also confront the country’s failed education and health systems, restore science to its rightful place, and make environmental concerns a priority.
In a passage that produced one of the biggest cheers of the day, he promised to engage with the world in a way that Bush had failed to. He had a message for people and governments around the world watching the inauguration: “We are ready to lead once more.”
He specifically mentioned reaching out to the Muslim world.
Hinting at his willingness to engage with countries such as Iran and Syria, though he did not name them, he said: “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
Obama, the son of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya, throughout the election campaign tried to avoid making too much of the fact that he would become the first African-American president. But he could not disappoint those who had been born in the days of segregation and had travelled long distances to be present today.
Knowing it was a special moment for those and other black Americans, he said that what American liberty meant was that “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.”
Obama began the day with a visit to St John’s church, across the square from the White House and the traditional venue for presidents, before heading for coffee with the Bushes.
The outgoing vice-president, Dick Cheney, did not turn up at the door to join in the greeting. He is in a wheelchair, apparently because he injured his back while removing boxes.
Obama and Bush then left to travel in an armoured car to the Capitol for the inauguration ceremony.
Joe Biden was first sworn in as vice-president. After a brief glitch in oath-taking, Obama was sworn in at 12.05pm (5.05pm GMT), with the new first lady, Michelle, holding the Bible, the same one used for the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln.
Security in the capital was much higher than for Bush’s inauguration four years ago. There were 28,000 security service agents, police and US national guard members on duty, about 50% more than last time.
As soon as the inauguration ceremony was over, vans and buses began ferrying Obama’s team to the White House to begin work.