American milestone: Obama inauguration is a moment of celebration, reflection
Thousands gather, bearing witness to America’s historic step toward racial equality.
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The use of the Lincoln Bible for the swearing-in – in the shadow of a Capitol building constructed in part by slave labor – adds to the mystique of Tuesday’s events. The media hype surrounding this weekend, fueled in part by 24/7 cable TV, is leading some commentators to dub this a coronation rather than an inauguration.Skip to next paragraph
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In his remarks Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial, Obama himself sought to place this moment in the sweep of history, but more the in context of the challenges before the nation.
“In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now,” he said. “Our nation is at war. Our economy is in crisis. Millions of Americans are losing their jobs and their homes. But despite all of this – despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead – I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time.”
After winning the election with 53 percent of the vote, Obama enters the Oval Office with a high level of public confidence in his ability to deal with the nation’s problems. The latest Pew Research Center poll shows 79 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Obama, including 59 percent of Republicans. The Pew research also shows most Americans see Obama as a problem-solver, and a “uniter.”
For many Republicans, the inauguration of Obama is a bittersweet time. It was President Lincoln, a Republican, who freed the slaves. During the civil rights era, it was Democrats who seized the mantle of reform, earning the loyalty of most black voters.
Raynard Jackson, a black Republican political consultant, says he voted for Obama, but remains a Republican. He wants to help the party from the inside.
Peter Wehner, a former top policy adviser to President Bush, agrees that Republicans are proud of this historic moment “and what it says about America.”
“To ... have a black man inaugurated and about to take office in a house built by slaves – and in a nation which still had segregation during the lives of many people who will witness the inauguration – is a remarkable, poignant, and hopeful moment in the life of this country,” Mr. Wehner says. “I think most people, of every party, feel that.”
Wehner also is “mildly encouraged” by Obama’s actions during the transition. But he remains wary of how Obama will govern, given his record as a state senator and a US senator. “It helps, I think, that Obama is a likable and impressive man in many respects, one who has acted in ways that many Republicans find somewhat reassuring, at least compared to what they thought they might get,” he says.
Not everyone moved to celebrate the inauguration of Obama has come to Washington, though it may feel that way. Celebrations are taking place around the country, and indeed, the world.
In the small logging town of Springhill, La., Linda Clayton decided this moment could not go unmarked. Since she could not travel to Washington, she organized a gala celebration right there in Springhill last Friday night, with her musical group, Change, performing.
Hopes were high that she could attract a large, diverse crowd – the town is mostly white, and Ms. Clayton is black – but in the end, she had only 50 or 60 people, all black, she says.
Clayton is concerned that some black preachers discouraged people from attending because there would be champagne and dancing. But she has no regret that she had the party. The inauguration “had great significance for me, because both my parents lived to see it and I know what they’ve lived through,” she says.