The bitter cold wasn’t enough to stop 1.8 million Americans from attending the inauguration of the United States’ new president, Barack Obama.
“Today, I say to you that the challenges we face are real,” Mr. Obama said in his inaugural address, delivered from the west front of the Capitol, to over nearly two million people. “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.”
Indeed, the new president will face a great degree of difficulty that is, while not unprecedented, equal to some of the greatest tests faced by former presidents. Foremost is our economic crisis, which is not likely to be solved any time soon. Additionally, he must figure out how best to deal with Iraq and other foreign policy components that affect both our national safety and budget.
It is this anxiety and hope for a better future that led the Nation to elect Obama as its next president, and it also compelled a record amount of people to attend his historic inauguration, it being the first inauguration of a president of African-American descent.
Early on inauguration day, Washington D.C. was somewhat chaotic. The metro quickly overflowed its capacity early in the morning, and it took some people over an hour just to leave the metro station. The mall standing area of the inauguration (an area where those with silver tickets were supposed to go) soon filled to the brim with both those who held tickets and those who did not. Much of the intended structure and order soon became impossible as the crowds yelled “let us in!” forcing security to acquiesce. The eagerness of Americans to see their newly elected president take the presidential oath far outweighed the trivial requirement for a ticket.
The crowd roared their overwhelming approval after Barack Hussein Obama took the presidential oath of office, albeit with some difficulty due to a mistake in the recitation, which was immediately rectified. Then, a miraculous quiet settled when Obama gave his inaugural address. It was the sort of quiet that was especially impressive given the fact that there were over one million people in attendance. Perhaps this reflected the hope that is placed in our new president by his constituents, or maybe it was because they needed to hear his comforting words in these troubling times. Either way, those in attendance quickly became united in their admiration and support for the newly elected president.
Besides the obvious problems caused by the unexpected multitudes, the inauguration went very smoothly. Initially, Obama’s selection of the minister Rick Warren to give the opening prayer was controversial, but the selection did not prompt any noticeable disapproval, and in fact Warren gave a humble prayer that echoed a tone of reverence for the historic occasion.
As former Vice President Dick Cheney was shown in his wheelchair entering the inauguration (the result of a back-injury from moving the day before), boos echoed throughout the crowd, a testimony of Cheney’s very low-approval rating. This reoccurred, in addition to laughter, whenever George W. Bush was shown on one of the several screens throughout the areas far back from the capital. Bush left Washington D.C. almost immediately after the inauguration and headed back to his home in Texas.
Despite the animosity in the crowd toward the former president, Mr. Obama praised Mr. Bush “for his service to our nation as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.” Such a gesture was impressive, indicating a certain maturity that is often missing in politics, and especially when considering it was toward an administration as reactionary as Bush’s.
But Obama also offered implicit criticism of the Bush administration, condemning what he called “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.” He went on to assure the rest of the world that change had come. “To all other peoples and governments who are watching today,” Mr. Obama said, “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 that we are ready to lead once more.” This implicit criticism hints that the Bush administration did not perform adequately in leading the nation. Yet the criticism was executed tactfully and was not overbearingly explicit. It was something that Bush, considering what he had been through during his second term of office, handled with grace.
For many of our grandparents and parents, the events surrounding such figures as Martin Luther King Junior or John F. Kennedy serve as treasured memories that signify benchmarks in social change for the better. Tuesday, January 20th was truly a historic day for our generation that we get to carry with us throughout our lives. Not only did we get a new president, but we now have a president who is the first of African-American descent, which speaks volumes about the progress our Nation has made in transcending racial barriers. It is a feat that is a victory for all, whether of one political party or race or another, as it affirms a doctrine of inclusion into our nation as a whole. And though Obama has a knack for giving stirring speeches, the inauguration crowd understood the power and necessity of such a gift, especially in our time of crisis.