Unlike any presidential inauguration in memory, the swearing-in of Barack Obama on Jan. 20, 2009 transfixes, inspires and gives hope to people everywhere. More than simply a switch from a Republican to a Democrat in the White House, Obama’s presidency represents a transcendent moment in U.S. history. And for millions, his inauguration is a national historical marker that will be used to compare what came before it and what comes after it.
"It’s a once-in-a-lifetime situation," actress Gloria Reuben told USA Today. "The last eight years have been such hell. We’re all so excited about the hope of things to come. … People are so ready to rejoice and celebrate what is hopefully the return of the foundation of the United States."
For many people, Obama’s racial heritage makes the inauguration especially significant. For others, seeing Obama inaugurated brings relief from eight years of the Bush administration, which leaves a legacy of incompetence, a staggering national debt, and two wars that must be resolved. Some see the inauguration as a prime opportunity to bring people together for a massive civics lesson. Two major teacher unions even joined forces with Obama’s inaugural committee on a teaching guide for the historic day.
Before Obama can begin the monumental task of governing, his inaugural speech-like his race speech in Philadelphia last year and his election night victory speech-will set a tone for how he confronts the challenges and uncertainties gripping the country.
When he took office in 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt began with these words:
"This is preeminently 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. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves, which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days."
Franklin Roosevelt’s answer to The Great Depression was The New Deal, which many argue helped shape the future of liberal politics. As the world watches, many hope Obama leaves a legacy of his own.
What is your personal response to Obama’s inaugural speech? Do you think the inauguration will set the right tone for how the U.S. needs to move forward? What do you think about the millions of people flocking to Washington for the inauguration? Do you get the feeling that the inauguration is more about Obama or more about the people? Years from now, what do you think you’ll remember most about the inauguration of President Barack Obama?
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