Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama steps to the door of history

High security as up to 2 million brave icy weather in D.C. for inauguration

WASHINGTON - Barack Obama steps into history by becoming the United States' first black president Tuesday, bringing a message of hope to a nation battered by recession, weary of war and hungry for change after eight years of George W. Bush in the White House.

With the national holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. falling on the eve of the inauguration, America's troubled racial history was in the spotlight.

Obama's inauguration represents a milestone once unthinkable in a nation that has struggled with racial issues since its founding and where segregation was practiced in many Southern states just decades ago. It will take place outside the U.S. Capitol, which slaves helped build. Obama will take his oath on the same Bible used at the 1861 inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, whose Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery.
Braving icy temperatures and possible snow flurries, hundreds of thousands of people descended on the heavily guarded capital city Tuesday for the first change of administrations since 2001.

Around the world, Obama's election electrified millions with the hope that America will be more embracing, more open to change.

Remarkable ascent
Tuesday's ceremony culminates a remarkable ascent for the 47-year-old Democrat who moves into the Oval Office as the nation's fourth youngest president. In less than five years, he rose from a little-known Illinois state lawmaker to the nation's highest office, persuading Americans that despite his relative inexperience, he could turn around the economy and end the Iraq war.

A gifted, inspirational speaker, Obama has raised the hopes of millions seeking a new course for the United States. He has promised to emphasize diplomacy, seek global solutions to climate change, reject torture and shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Obama's presidency puts Democrats firmly in charge of Washington. They will control both chambers of Congress and the White House for the first time since 1994.

Bush leaves Washington as one of the nation's most unpopular and divisive presidents, the architect of two unfinished wars and the man in charge at a time of economic calamity.

Bush's approval ratings, which soared after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, plummeted over his handling of the Iraq war, his slow response to Hurricane Katrina and the economic meltdown.

High hopes, enormous burden
Pre-inauguration polls show Americans believe Obama is on track to succeed despite the enormous burden placed upon his shoulders. They express confidence the new president can turn the economy around, but Obama has cautioned that improvements will take time and that things will get worse before they get better.

Culminating four days of celebration, Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden were to begin the day with a traditional morning worship service at St. John's Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House, and end it with dancing and partying at 10 inaugural balls lasting deep into the night.

By custom, Obama and his wife, Michelle, were invited to the White House for coffee with Bush and his wife, Laura, followed by a shared ride in a heavily armored Cadillac limousine to the U.S. Capitol for the transfer of power. On Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney pulled a muscle in his back, leaving him in a wheelchair for the inauguration.
Before noon, Obama steps forward on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol to take the 35-word oath of office, administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, which has been uttered by every president since George Washington.

The son of a Kansas-born mother and Kenyan-born father, Obama decided to use his full name — Barack Hussein Obama — in the swearing-in ceremony.

To the dismay of liberals, Obama invited conservative evangelical pastor Rick Warren — an opponent of gay rights — to give the inaugural invocation.

Obama's aides said he was readying an inaugural address that would stress twin themes of responsibility and accountability.

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