WASHINGTON — Hailing the nation’s "patchwork heritage,” Barack Hussein Obama, the son of a Kenyan and a Kansan, succeeded George W. Bush in the White House on Tuesday and began a new era in American government.
The 44th president, the first black person to hold the office in the nation’s 232-year history, took the oath of office on a cold day in front of more than 1 million people who jammed the National Mall from the U.S. Capitol down to the Lincoln Memorial and frequently burst into chants of "O-bam-a!”
Despite the magnitude of the moment — which compelled people of all ages and races to flock to Washington this week — Obama didn’t dwell on his own story, focusing most of his inaugural address on the nation’s challenges at home and abroad.
The new president said people gathered in Washington this week "because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”
He asserted his resolve to rebuild the economy and relations with other countries while defending the nation against aggression. And he called for a new era of responsibility.
"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” Obama said.
The 47-year-old Democrat bid farewell to his Republican predecessor, Bush, who left Washington for Texas after eight years in the White House. Obama immediately inherited some challenges, including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and crises in the financial and automotive industries that led to massive corporate bailouts.
Obama pledged Tuesday to "begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.” And, hinting at stronger regulation for Wall Street, he warned that a market without a watchful eye "can spin out of control.”
Obama will start his presidency as Bush did — with his party in charge of Congress. Obama has already begun working with Democratic lawmakers on an economic stimulus package that could top $800 billion over two years.
Just minutes after taking the oath of office from Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, Obama said it was time to stop arguing about whether government was too big or too small. The question, he said, was 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. 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.