Tough times require tough words seemed to be the thread running through President Barack Obama's inaugural speech as the improbably historic 44th President of the United States—a black, 47-year-old junior U.S. Senator competing against established, experienced political figures.
Perhaps, then, this is precisely why the lanky Illinoisan who invites comparisons to Abraham Lincoln was entrusted with an appalling, ominous set of national crises. A man of courage, candor and youth to endure the crushing tests of the time, whose race and sense of America's bitter days of racism will be the glue to end division and inspire an era of selflessness.
The president's 2,400 word, 18-minute speech was a timely and necessary mix of the poetic, echoing the centuries old American spirit to conquer adversity, and the cold, reality of trials facing Americans because of "our collective failure to make hard choices,"
Pronouncements leaped from the presidential text.
The responsibility and accountability of government was inescapable—"to spend wisely, reform bad habits and do our business in the light of day" and "restore the vital trust between a people and their government."
Charity, generosity and volunteerism of Americans was another Obama stress point—"the price and the promise of citizenship"
The national will—"Let it said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back."
And finally, repudiation of the past—"we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals". . ."for expedience's sake"—renewal of the American global presence—"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"—and setting a new White House tone—"an end to pretty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas."
Somber as this oath-taking was in political context, the setting was festive and surely beyond customary description—more people than ever gathered at one time in Washington, a testament to the epochal nature of the event.
The most striking portrait created by this ocean of perhaps millions of faces was the mixture of colors—white, black, yellow, brown mingling almost cheek to cheek.
Possibly in this one moment and in one place most of the pain and ugliness and horrors of the past 200-plus years—slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow racism, the Ku Klux Klan, red-state-blue-state animosities—have been put to rest as footnotes in a country's growing up.