Challenges are real, but 'they will be met', Obama says
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Soon after being sworn in as the 44th US president, Barack Obama called for "bold and swift" action on the economy to create jobs and ensure future growth. Obama also pledged to pursue "a new way forward" with the Muslim world.
On a freezing January afternoon, flanked by the imposing US Capitol building and before a wildly cheering crowd of millions on Washington, DC's National Mall, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th — and first African-American — president of the United States.
In his much-anticipated inaugural address, Obama invoked the great challenges that America now faces as a nation, but also spoke of enduring principles that will allow its citizens to overcome these obstacles.
The new US president did not mince words as he outlined America’s troubles: an economy that is “badly weakened” as millions of homes and jobs are lost, failing schools and businesses, and continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan against a global network of “violence and hatred.”
Obama urged Americans to choose “hope over fear” and unite in a "new era of responsibility" to overcome the challenges facing the country. He called for “action, bold and swift” to take on the economic crisis and broadly outlined plans for creating new jobs as well as laying a foundation for future growth and making major investments into infrastructure.
Science and technology must be used in the service of the people to raise the quality of health care and lower its cost, the US president said, while new ways of harnessing solar and wind power must be pursued to fuel the nation’s future cars and factories.
In light of the global financial crisis, Obama said the power of the free market to generate wealth was unparalleled, but that it needed “a watchful eye” to keep it from spinning out of control. He said “greed and irresponsibility on the part of some” had contributed to the crisis.
On the subject of US national defense, Obama rejected the notion that a choice must be made “between our safety and our ideals." America is ready to serve all those who seek “a future of peace and dignity,” he said, for “power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.”
Obama pledged to work alongside poor nations to secure them the necessities of life and offered Muslim countries a new beginning, “based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
Reactions on the Mall
Among the two million people gathered on the National Mall to hear his address, the reactions were overwhelmingly favourable.
“The speech was amazing,” said Chet Pourciau, an interior designer from New Orleans. “I was particularly moved when Obama talked about New Orleans and how the people had been forgotten,” he said, referring to the widely-criticized government response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “Obama’s speech touched on everything we’ve been waiting to hear for the past eight years.”
After eight years of the Bush presidency, during which the former US president’s popularity ratings plunged, many people on the Mall expressed relief that the Bush years were over.
Standing in the Mall, Josh Penslar looked up at the skies as the US Air Force helicopter bearing Bush flew over the grounds en route to the Andrews Air Force base outside Washington, from where the former US president left for his native Texas.
“That’s Bush, there he goes,” said Penslar, a 23-year-old musician from Indiana who currently lives in Toronto, Canada.
As an American living abroad, Penslar said he has noted the changes in international reaction to America following Obama’s election victory. “It’s like night and day,” said Penslar. “Before, if you said you were American, foreigners would just say ‘oh’ and change the topic. But now, when they hear you’re an American, they get so excited and ask, ‘did you vote? Did you vote for Obama?’ That’s a big change for me. I’m thinking about moving back to the United States and while I’m not saying this is the sole reason for my decision, it certainly helps.”