Languages
Page last updated at 21:00 GMT, Tuesday, 20 January 2009
As it happened: Obama inauguration



By Richard Lister
BBC News, Washington

Back when he was still just the president-elect, Barack Obama took his family to the Lincoln Memorial to see the inscription of one of America's more memorable inaugural addresses.

Barack Obama delivers his inaugural address on the steps of the Capitol building, Washington DC, 20 January 2009
Mr Obama made only passing references to his race

Thinking about the one her dad was about to deliver, 10-year-old Malia turned to him and said: "First African-American President - better be good."

Barack Obama has always been a wordsmith - it was one of the things that defined him as a candidate - so the bar was already high.

For this moment in America's history though, his tone was businesslike and sombre.

He offered a sobering critique of this country's problems: a weakened economy - "a consequence of greed and irresponsibility", a "collective failure to make hard choices".

Homes lost, businesses closed, schools failing. The picture he painted was of a country with a broken spirit and a loss of purpose, suffering from a "sapping of confidence".

'Makers of things'

But the man who made Hope a mantra of his campaign then began to chart America's course out from under its current cloud.

He put his faith in the "makers of things" - drawing an unspoken contrast with the makers of money who helped spark the current financial crisis.

These workers, he suggested, were the true spirit of America, and carry the same potential as they have always had, to bring prosperity to the country.

He looked to America's workforce to re-build the nation's industrial and commercial infrastructure, but he left unsaid the less-lofty logistics for all this - an $825bn stimulus package he wants Congress to pass (and quickly).

When talking of America's military might, he peppered his script with words like prudence, humility and restraint

It will be taxpayers who get America moving - at least initially - if Mr Obama has his way.

At the heart of his speech, though, was an appeal for a "new era of responsibility", in which Americans embrace the duties they have to their nation and the world.

This was a warning that the years ahead will require hard work and sacrifice, both of which he believes will renew America's sense of itself.

He used his speech to define his outlook on the rest of the world too, saying America can no longer afford "indifference to suffering outside its borders", nor can it continue to "consume the world's resources without regard to effect".

Those are bold statements, which he may find come back to haunt him as his administration considers international humanitarian crises and the challenge of climate change.

When talking of America's military might, he peppered his script with words like prudence, humility and restraint.

But remember, George W Bush also promised a "humble" foreign policy...

Classic one-liners

Mr Obama only made passing references to his race.

Towards the end of the speech, he noted that his father might not have been served at a restaurant less than 60 years ago, and yet that man's son could now be president.

But Mr Obama has always tried to avoid being defined by his race, and he would prefer to have his time in office remembered for what he does rather than who he is.

So will his speech stand up to his daughter's scrutiny?

It should. It seemed to fit the times - reflecting a nation under stress, but with the potential to bounce back, and offering inspiration for a weary people.

Was there a classic inaugural one-liner along the lines of Kennedy's "ask not what your country can do for you..." or FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"?

Well, perhaps it's too early to say.

But this speech will be judged by historians for how closely it comes to mirror Mr Obama's presidency.

If this speech does, in fact, define his time in office, then perhaps in years to come we will be listening to clips of him saying "the world has changed, and we must change with it" or "a nation cannot prosper long, when it favours only the prosperous".

And perhaps those clips will not only be played because they were spoken by the nation's first African-American president.

Print Sponsor



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific