His left hand resting on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln put his hand on to take the oath of office in 1861, Obama smiles during the administration of the oath of office on Tuesday. (AP photo)
|With his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha to his left, President Barack Obama repeats after John G. Roberts (left) as the U.S. Supreme Court’s chief justice administers the oath of office. (AP photo)
WASHINGTON — History surely will remember President Barack Obama as the first black to sit in the White House. But success in his term will depend on his accomplishments rather than on the color of his skin.
He takes office with friendlier majorities in Congress than any chief executive since Lyndon Johnson and confronts economic challenges unrivaled since the era of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Rising unemployment, a crippled financial lending system, millions without health care and an economy dangerously dependent on foreign oil top the agenda at home. Two wars — one he has vowed to end, the other to wage — confront him overseas.
More fundamentally, he told the country Tuesday in his inaugural address, “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America.”
Partially because of America’s tortured racial history, Obama’s inauguration sparked enormous excitement, and he begins his presidency with a larger reservoir of goodwill than might otherwise be the case. A vast crowd that began filling the National Mall before daybreak on Tuesday was evidence of that, a final comeuppance to those who doubted a black could gain the White House.
But like the new president and his aides, even those who stood with Martin Luther King Jr., and then preceded Obama into politics understand that will not be enough.
“This is a victory for democracy, for all Americans who see their hopes and dreams in Barack Obama, who now feel that they have a voice,” U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American in Congress, said in an Inauguration Day statement.
“But after the Inaugural celebration ends, I caution the American people to have patience. We face many great challenges that took more than 100 days to create, and will take more than 100 days to rectify,” added the South Carolina Democrat, who recalled first meeting King in 1960.
Obama, 47, projects a Rooseveltian optimism about the future.
Despite eroded national confidence, he said in his speech, “Our capacity remain undiminished.” He urged the nation to choose “hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”
The Democratic majorities in Congress are jubilant about the prospect of an Obama presidency, a welcome change for them after the past two years spent struggling with President George W. Bush. He won most of the big political battles, but they won last November’s elections, gaining seats in both the House and Senate.
“So we are ready. Democrats have arrived,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a news conference two days after the new Congress convened. “We are ready to lead, prepared to govern.”(p2)
A perplexing new chapter is unfolding in Barack Obama’s racial saga:
Many people insist that “the first black president” is actually not
black. Debate over what to call this son of a white Kansan and a black
Kenyan has reached a
crescendo since Obama’s election shattered assumptions about race. More »
A perplexing new chapter is unfolding in Barack Obama’s racial saga: Many people insist that “the first black president” is actually not black. Debate over what to call this son of a white Kansan and a black Kenyan has reached a crescendo since Obama’s election shattered assumptions about race. More »
"The ritual preface of the word “black” in front of any and every breakthrough an African American makes is insulting, condescending and minimizes the achievement," wrote Earl Ofari Hutchinson in this Nov. 13, 2008, Banner op-ed. More »
The United States is far from a blueprint for racial harmony, but for
today’s young adults — all born after segregation was outlawed in the
mid-1960s — race is not the issue it once was. More »
The United States is far from a blueprint for racial harmony, but for today’s young adults — all born after segregation was outlawed in the mid-1960s — race is not the issue it once was. More »