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  America
Obama's Success Hinges on More Than Race
U.S. President Barack Obama waves after delivering his speech during the inauguration ceremony in 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 on Jan. 13 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," 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.

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," 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."

Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and fellow Democrats are moving quickly to implement Obama's economic recovery plan. Even before he took office, he won the release of the second half of the $700 billion financial industry bailout that passed Congress last fall. An $825 billion economic stimulus bill is making its way to his desk, with an estimated delivery time of mid-February.

Not surprisingly, congressional Democrats leave their own stamp on the measure, a process to be repeated over and over in the president's term. That reflects a healthy tension between two branches of government, but is not to be confused with opposition.

Republicans face the first of many decisions as they settle into their new role.

In the Senate, talk of bill-killing filibusters is scarce so far. The GOP now holds only 41 of the 100 seats, with the Minnesota election yet to be settled.

In the House as well as in the Senate, Republicans in safe seats will feel relatively free to oppose the new president. Others will be more inclined to support his program.

Obama's stated goal as he takes office is to expand the latter group as much as possible.

His pre-presidential days have been marked by calls for bipartisanship, backed up by decisions such as retaining Defense Secretary Robert Gates in office and smaller grace notes he hopes the public and Republicans will notice.

He quietly made it known he was prepared to attend the closed-door weekly lunch held by GOP senators on the same day as last's week's meeting with Democrats. He was asked to wait until after the inauguration.

On his final night before moving into the office, Obama attended a dinner in honor of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, his opponent in last fall's campaign. Pursuing a common purpose rather than political advantage "is built into the very content of his character," Obama said of the man he ran against.

There was an echo of King in that. In the most famous speech of his life, the civil rights leader said a generation ago he hoped his own children could be judged not "by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

In his inaugural speech, Obama referred to his heritage as "a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant ..."

But President Obama's horizon is far broader than that.

"That we are in the midst of a crisis is now well understood," he said.(AP)

The following is the full text of US President Barack Obama's inauguration address on Jan.20.


"My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.


Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

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, 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. 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.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

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.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.




 

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