Billy Soistmann


In Features, Politics on January 26, 2009 at 1:20 PM

(This is an article I wrote earlier in the year for another publication. I have estimated a date and added it here late so please excuse any time discrepancies.)

“The National Guard had been called in and were standing post (armed) on almost every street corner. A number of the streets were shut down and throngs of people were literally strolling down the middle of what normally would be a busy street filled with cars and buses. Although I have never been in a country during a military coup, I would imagine it would look something like this,” says Rachel Cook [Mrs.’ Gumienny’s niece, who currently resides in Washington, D.C.], painting a very interesting picture of a most historic Inauguration Day, 2009.

On January 20, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States in front of a record crowd. Two million people gathered at the nation’s capital, nearly 38 million viewers watched at home, and as many as 51 million tuned in online. Though merely rough estimates, it is clear that this was the most-watched inauguration in American history.

Rachel’s sister, Elizabeth Gumienny says, “Walking through the streets was crazy… people were everywhere… the amount of people in the streets around the capital was so intense, I’ve never experieced anything like it. It was overwhelming and a little scary. There were times that it felt like I would never get out of the crowd.”

After hours of waiting in the cold, the crowd of millions was given what they had been waiting for. The moment had arrived. Barack Obama rose and faced Chief Justice John Roberts to be sworn in. Roberts then proceeded to butcher the oath by pausing after “I, Barack Hussein Obama,” saying “President to the United States” instead of “of the United States,” and misplacing the word “faithfully.” Ironically, the oath is written in Article 2 of the Constitution, the document on which Roberts is supposed to rule.

Traditionally, the new President delivers an address after being sworn in and President Obama was no exception. In his speech, the President began by recognizing that the U.S. is indeed facing tough times, saying “That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened… Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”

President Obama then reflected on the strength of the American people saying, “Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.”

Further, Obama called for Americans to recognize their responsibilities to themselves, America, and the world. In this “new era of responsibility,” what is required is a return to the values which have been the “quiet force of progress throughout our history –  hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism.”

President Obama then made a statement not only to the American people, but to every nation, including a warning, “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.” Along with a promise that, “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” He went on to say, “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

On January 25th, President Obama commissioned George Mitchell as a special envoy to the Middle East and held his first interview with a Muslim television station, Al Arabiya. He said, “What we want to do is to listen, set aside some of the preconceptions that have existed and have built up over the last several years. And I think if we do that, then there’s a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs.” The President also vowed to follow up on his promise to speak in an Arab capital within the first 100 days of his presidency.

In regards to the economy, the President promised swift action to help the economy and more jobs for the unemployed. [President Obama’s economic stimulus package recently passed through Congress, with 60 votes in the Senate, the minimum to pass, and 246 to 183 in the House.] Another key economic statement was that, “a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.” To back this up, the President  has created a Middle Class Task Force, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, to help middle-class working families during the economic crisis.

Another major issue mentioned was energy as the President promised cleaner, healthier energy, which is important to the economy as it will reduce our dependency on foreign oil, and is also a key to protecting the planet. The President has promised to double the production of alternative energy during the next three years.

A key issue among Obama’s supporters was health care costs. The President  pledged to “raise its quality and lower its cost.” Many believe it is going to be very tough to fix the nation’s health care system without sacrificing the freedom of the people. Raja Abou-Rahme says, “I have no problem with health care, but sometimes the government handles things badly.”

As for our common defense, President Obama said, “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Thomas Jefferson said, “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another…” To back up his statement, the President signed an executive order on January 22 closing the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay within one year, and another that established standards for lawful interrogations and created a special task force to review interrogation and transfer-of-prisoner policies.

Finally, the President reaffirmed his intentions for a responsible transition of power in Iraq. This was another key point in his campaign and one in which Obama differs greatly from President Bush.

At the end of his address, President Obama quoted from Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis, “Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”

One characteristic of the speech was that it was very practical, particularly in the phrase, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” Another key was creating a feeling of change, as this was his primary campaign point. This is what many wanted – something new.

To close the ceremony, Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery delivered a unique benediction. He began with, “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears….” quoting from the Negro National Anthem (James Weldon Johnsons’ song, Lift Every Voice and Sing). The prayer focused on equality and unity, and says, “Help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.” It also included references to Isaiah 2:4, Amos 5:24, He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop.” After asking for God’s blessing upon Barack Obama and his family, Dr. Lowery concluded by rewording an old, rascist ryhme into, “We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back; when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right.”

Regardless of political beliefs, this historic Inauguration seemed to bring the country together for a short time. Even though sophomore Austin Barrington doesn’t agree with the new President on some political issues, he seemed to sum up the thoughts of many when saying, “It’s a major step for America that we have a black President. It shows just how far we’ve come since slavery and, also, that we can learn from past mistakes.”

Now that the festivities are over, it is time for President Barack Obama to get down to business. There are many challenges facing our nation today and America will be watching with very high hopes.

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