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If anyone had any doubt about the outpouring of support and the depth of good wishes for the new president, they must have missed the sight of about 1.8 million people in and along the National Mall for Inauguration Day, 2009.
There has been no event in Washington, D.C’ s history that drew a larger crowd. Only the jumbotron viewing screens allowed the many sections of the crowd that flowed down the National Mall to witness the ceremonies.
It was cold, but not as viciously cold as the weather we’d had locally the week before. I don’t think even colder temperatures would have produced a smaller crowd. The numbers were full evidence of the great hopes Barack Obama carries.
In the rest of America, many more millions took a day off from work or found a way to watch the inauguration from the office. Most of the country was tuned in one way or another when the change that won the election finally took power.
The joy at Obama’s arrival was equal to the happiness over the departure of his predecessor. Even Bush himself had sensed the way people felt, and had properly ordered his staff to give the transition every cooperation.
We’d heard a lot about Obama’s love of the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. The 16th president should be a model for any other president who takes the reins in troubled times. Lincoln’s greatness is not challenged by serious people: He defeated the rebellious, kept the Union together, and freed the slaves. All of these he accomplished through a prism of values and vision he never compromised.
The connection of freeing the slaves to Obama’s own fate is clear. So it was entirely appropriate that the new president visited the Lincoln Memorial in the days prior to inauguration, and was then sworn-in on Lincoln’s Bible.
The Inaugural Address itself was probably a surprise, according to most who analyzed it. We’d come to expect flowery rhetoric from Obama during the campaign, but what we got this time was different.
It was a rather straightforward declaration of the challenges we face, but also a listing of the principles he’ll defend as the new president. The New York Times, in particular, saw the speech as a pointed rejection of Bush’s policies.
That it clearly was when Obama said “we reject as false the choice between our liberties and our security.” That was a well-justified slap at the Patriot Act, the abuses of Gitmo, and other constitutional excesses from the so-called war on terror.
While the new president got a beautiful invocation from the Rev. Rick Warren (a very moving prayer, indeed), he also specifically mentioned “non-believers” in his remarks, something no president has done before him. That tells me that Obama understands that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion, and he won’t challenge separation of church and state the way Bush and many of his supporters did.
As for the remaining few terrorists that would still like to attack us (although no one has for nearly eight years now), it’s rather obvious that “you can’t outlast us …” and “we will defeat you” stated what needed to be said.
I don’t think the address topped John F. Kennedy’s in 1961, which is the best one in the modern era, but it served the practical purpose of reminding the country that Obama knows what the problems are and knows the values he won’t stray from in order to tackle them.
Now, the serious work begins. It’s action, policy, and the execution of policy, not just rhetoric. Time will tell if the new president is up to the hopes invested in him, and I’m betting he will be.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.