Obama takes power, urges unity vs. 'raging storms'

Posted by By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer Jennifer Loven, Associated Press Writer on 2009/01/20 | Views: |

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Obama takes power, urges unity vs. 'raging storms'

Barack Hussein Obama claimed his place in history as America's first black president Tuesday, summoning a dispirited and divided nation to unite in hope against the "gathering clouds and raging storms" of unfinished war and grave economic woe.

WASHINGTON Barack Hussein Obama claimed his place in history as America's first black president Tuesday, summoning a dispirited and divided nation to unite in hope against the "gathering clouds and raging storms" of unfinished war and grave economic woe. A jubilant crowd of more than a million waited for hours in frigid temperatures to witness the moment as a young black man with a foreign-sounding name took command of a nation founded by slaveholders.

It was a scene watched in fascination by many millions perhaps billions around the world.

"We gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," the nation's 44th president said.

The presidency passed to Democrat Obama from Republican George W. Bush at the stroke of noon, marking one of democracy's greatest gifts: the peaceful transfer of power.

Buoyant and relaxed through the three days of pre-inaugural festivities, Obama seemed somber as he stood on the Capitol steps, placed his left hand on the Bible used by Abraham Lincoln and repeated the inaugural oath "to preserve, protect and defend" a Constitution that originally defined blacks as three-fifths of a person. A deafening cheer went up.

"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly," Obama said. "This is the price and the promise of citizenship."

It was a day of high spirits jarred by sudden concern about the health of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a legendary Democrat who is suffering from brain cancer and was rushed to a hospital from a Senate luncheon after the swearing-in. "My prayers are with him and his family and (Kennedy's wife) Vicki," Obama said. Later, fellow Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said Kennedy was laughing and joking at the hospital and itching to get back to work.

On the inaugural parade route, Obama and his wife, Michelle, climbed out of the heavily armored presidential limousine and walked a few blocks along famed Pennsylvania Avenue, waving to adoring crowds under the watchful eyes of security agents.

Obama wove a thread of personal responsibility and accountability through his inaugural address, an 18-minute sermon on civic duty. A liberal Democrat proposing billions of dollars in new spending, Obama nonetheless spoke of the limits of government.

"It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours," he said. "It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate."

Obama's 10-year-old daughter, Malia, aimed a camera at her father as he spoke. Michelle leaned onto the edge of her seat, body tensed and brow knitted.

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America," Obama said.

He alluded to the inability or unwillingness of Americans to adjust to the passing of an industrial-based economy. "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age," he said. With that, the 47-year-old former Illinois senator transformed himself from a candidate claiming his campaign is about the voters to a president promising to put the nation in the people's hands.

Unlike most predecessors, Obama takes office with his agenda in many ways set for him.

An economy that seems more foreboding than at any inauguration since Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, with some 11 million people now out of work, and trillions of dollars of stock market investments lost. Two wars, one in Iraq that most of the country has long w

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