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Blog Home Page --> Inauguration 2009

Inauguration Notebook

The crowd today was the largest in U.S. history, according to police estimates. Just under two million crowded the mall to watch Barack Obama sworn in, and while there were not any major incidents, it was not always smooth sailing. Here's some color from the day.

  • It was cold, and no matter how many layers, it was a tough few hours. On the long route into the ticketed areas, you could find hand warmers for sale every couple hundred feet, though.

  • As the program began, those within earshot of me cheered almost exclusively for the Democrats, especially Ted Kennedy, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and, of course, the Obamas. Oprah Winfrey and Colin Powell were lauded as well. Joe Lieberman was booed; John McCain got a mixed reaction but a surprising number of cheers.

  • Problems at security checkpoints left the holders of some prime tickets unable to take their seats. One of them: former Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, who was escorted through a barricade in the silver section to get to her seat. Other non-VIPs were not so lucky.

  • For the outgoing president, though, it was a definitive Bronx cheer. From his appearance on the jumbo screens to his arrival on the platform, the crowd jeered the outgoing president and eventually broke into an extended "na-na, hey-hey, good bye" chant.

  • At how many inaugurals has the guest of honor had his name chanted the way President Obama's was today. For every lull in the program, like clockwork, the "O-BA-MA!" chorus began on the mall.

  • One quibble from a reader on Obama's inaugural address. He said "forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath." The nation observes that there have been 44 presidents, but Grover Cleveland accounts for two of them. So, Obama was actually the 43rd to take the oath.

  • And about that oath - it was not pretty. Steve Kornacki: "A conspiracy theorist might say that Chief Justice John Roberts, perhaps George W. Bush's most conservative and most lasting contribution to American life, was trying to psyche out Barack Obama by intentionally mangling the syntax of the oath of office as he administered it to the new president."

  • As the crowds dispersed, some who were near the Reflecting Pond walked on water. It was frozen solid, of course. As a few brave souls seemed to fare well, the numbers grew.

  • A new WhiteHouse.gov is up and running. The design bears a hint of the Obama campaign web page, but with more of an official government feel. The new administration's Web site has a blog, and also, we should note, includes more biographies and staff lists, as well as agenda specifics.

Voices In The Crowd:

"I gave Val Kilmer a ride home last night" - Chris Matthews (MSNBC).

"I wish I was Mrs. Crist. I'd be beautiful and rich" - Minnesota first lady Mary Pawlenty, after someone mistook her for the new first lady of Florida (St. Pete Times).

President Obama Calls For "Era Of Responsibility"

President Barack Obama today delivered a message that was very much in keeping with his signature promise, heralding real change in the course of the nation he now leads.

The Illinois Democrat, after taking the oath of office this afternoon before millions who braved the cold to fill the National Mall, was timely rather than timeless in his inaugural address as he spoke of America's current challenges: an economy in crisis, a political system that is dysfunctional, and a nation that has lost its status in the world.

"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," he said.

The speech, clocking in at just under 2,400 words according to the draft as prepared for delivery, was also a call for Americans to, as he put it, pay the price of citizenship.

"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," he said.

Notably, the new president also included some sharp language, almost political, referring to "cynics" and those who would "question the scale of our ambitions." And criticizing the "stale political arguments," he even quoted scripture to say it was time "to set aside childish things." And he was tough on his now-predecessor, reaffirming his intent to shift course.

"We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," he said.

And reaching out to the international community, from "the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born," Obama promised that the United States is "ready to lead once more."

He specifically spoke to the Muslim community, seeking "a new way forward." But he also offered a stern challenge to those he said would rather "sow conflict" and "blame their society's ills on the West." "Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy," he said.

And pledging to succeed in the battle against extremism, he said: "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."

It was a sober speech, but the 44th president closed in almost a prayerful manner.

"With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come," he said. "Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

The Inauguration, From Our View

Here are a few shots we took from our seat on the west front of the Capitol.

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Our view of the stage, where Obama would soon take the oath of office and deliver his inaugural address.

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The view from behind our seat, where the crowd apparently went on...and on...and on.

Cong. Leaders React To Inauguration

Democratic and Republican congressional leaders released statements in reaction to President Barack Obama's inauguration today:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

"It may be cold today in Washington, our nation's heart is warm. From every corner of our country and the furthest crevices of the earth, people came together at the apex of our democracy to be a part of an American renewal.

"President Barack Obama's inaugural address appealed to our better angels and best intentions. He reminded us that no matter how daunting our challenges may seem, America always answers the call of history.

"The millions who came together, lining our National Mall for miles and miles, were not merely observers to this memorable day. They were participants, ready to work with our new President in service to a common cause.

"The United States Senate is ready join our new President to answer that call to service as well. That's why we are back in session, just a few short hours from the swearing-in. Faced with some of the great challenges of our lifetimes, there is no time to waste."

House Minority Leader John Boehner:

"The defining characteristic of our American democracy is the peaceful transfer of presidential power, and once again, our nation has proven to friends and foes alike that the world's most powerful nation is governed above all else by the wisdom and will of its citizens. The next four years will be marked by considerable challenges - but also considerable opportunities for all leaders in Washington, regardless of party, to work together on behalf of the American people. House Republicans look forward to finding common ground with the President on solutions to rebuild our economy, strengthen American families, and keep our country safe. Today is a day of celebration - a celebration of our thriving democracy and a celebration of our nation's first African-American President. I wish President Obama and his family all my best and look forward to traveling the next four years with him in our continuing American journey."

From Obama, We'll Hear Lincoln, Roosevelt

The United States economy is in crisis, and it's a certainty that much of Barack Obama's inaugural speech today will focus on that very topic. Presidents past have come into office facing daunting circumstances as well, and Obama and his speechwriters may lean on the likes of Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln as resources.

Obama is an outspoken admirer of both Lincoln and Roosevelt, and his recent speeches -- including at the Lincoln Memorial concert Sunday -- illustrate that. A number of Obama's lines are reminiscent of what the nation heard in inaugural speeches in 1861 and 1933, when the Union was literally breaking apart and the economy was in worse shape than today.

"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," Obama said Sunday from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, before laying out in Hemingway-like sentences exactly what the country is facing.

Compare that to what Lincoln said in March 1861, as he related his situation -- a country split in half over slavery -- to that of his predecessors.

"It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our National Constitution," Lincoln said. "During that period fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens have in succession administered the executive branch of the Government. They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with great success. Yet, with all this scope of precedent, I now enter upon the same task for the brief constitutional term of four years under great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted."

Here is another snippet from Obama's relatively brief speech Sunday.

"I won't pretend that meeting any one of these challenges will be easy," Obama said. "It will take more than a month or a year, and it will likely take many. Along the way there will be setbacks and false starts and days that test our fundamental resolve as a nation. 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."

Now compare those lines to the opening paragraph of Roosevelt's inaugural speech in March 1933. With the country deep in depression, Roosevelt decided to sugarcoat over nothing.

"I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels," Roosevelt said. "This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper."

From start to finish, Lincoln's speech was aimed directly at the South, as he forcefully explained why secession was not a suitable resolution. Likewise, Roosevelt used the vast majority of his speech to explain his plans for solving the country's economic ailments. With the country at war, Obama won't be able to focus solely on the economy, but he'll otherwise look to follow in their footsteps.

As he takes his first steps in the sand as United States president and commander-in-chief, it would be hard to argue with that path.

Nothing But Lines

Take a stroll down Independence Avenue on the south side of the Capitol from 10 a.m. until this afternoon, and this is what you'll see: lines.

People are lined up outside the three House office buildings across the avenue from the Capitol as they wait to get their congressman-provided tickets to the big show tomorrow. Much of the same can be expected tomorrow, as the masses converge on the Mall tomorrow morning for the ceremony and 16-block Pennsylvania Avenue parade.

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People lined up outside the Cannon House Office Building, en route to their congressman's office to pick up Inauguration tickets.

Traveling to DC, Obama Invokes America's Unfinished Revolution

President-elect Barack Obama has arrived in Washington with a bit of a whimper -- no fanfare after an 8-hour train ride that marked the official kick-off of his inaugural festivities.

An estimated 50,000 people greeted him along the way, at events in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore, as well as a couple "slow-rolls" along the Amtrak route. Joined by his wife (who celebrated her birthday today) and some so-called "ordinary Americans," the day was a throwback to Abraham Lincoln's arrival in Washington a century and a half ago.

But it was the spirit of the American Revolution that Obama referred to in remarks at each stop today, saying in Philadelphia that the war that founded the nation "was -- and remains -- an ongoing struggle in the minds and hearts of the people."

In Delaware, Obama picked up Vice President-elect Joe Biden -- someone he said has already "changed Washington" -- and noted that the state was the first to ratify the Constitution. And then he came to Baltimore, where he said the nation "faced its first true test" in 1812.

"We recognize that such enormous challenges as the ones we face now will not be solved quickly," he said to a crowd of over 30,000 there, the largest of the day. "There will be false starts and setbacks, frustrations and disappointments. I will make some mistakes. But we will be called to show patience even as we act with fierce urgency."

Today's events may have been an opportunity for the president-elect to test some themes for his inaugural address in three days, though he'd likely use new language. According to a pool report from the trip, Michelle Obama told some of the "ordinary Americans" during the ride that her husband would give a good speech. "That's not what you're supposed to say in front of the press!" Obama said to her. "You're supposed to say it'll be alright!"