As hundreds of millions watched throughout the world, Obama promised a new era of "hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord."
The inaugural address was delivered forcibly and eloquently but fell short of phrases that will go down with the ages. But the message was clear, up beat and challenging. It lacked Franklin Roosevelt's "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," and John Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country."
The expectations of Obama's speech were so high based on his famous oratorical skills first heard by the nation at the 2004 Democratic convention and later on the campaign trail that even he could barely surmount.
Rather, Obama indirectly chided the Bush administration for much of the mess our nation faces
saying ”the time has come to set aside childish things. 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.”
It is exactly what Americans and the world wanted to hear.
The goodwill Obama has created in events leading up to today's inauguration is reflected by a 71% approval rating during the transition since the Nov. 4 election. He has talked the talk up to this moment. Now, he must walk the walk as he prepares still another speech -- and probably more important -- for his State of the Union address to Congress where he will set the nation's agenda.
In his speech, Obama signalled he will not be timid in efforts to right the ship of state.
"Our journey ... 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.
" ... 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."
" ... Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
"... What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them— that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. 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. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."
The new president also admonished his predecessor on foreign policy.
"We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils 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."
"... 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 will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, 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."
"... To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
The concurrent theme running through Obama's speech was the basic values and virtues of the American people.
"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. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate."
" .... 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."The task of governing now begins.
Seldom in our history has so much hope been placed on the shoulders of a single man.