Archive for the ‘American President’ Category

Obama and Bush

January 21, 2009
A Call for Change

Rejecting Bush Era, Reclaiming Values

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

George W. Bush taking off from the Capitol on Tuesday.

By DAVID E. SANGER

Published: January 20, 2009

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address on Tuesday was a stark repudiation of the era of George W. Bush and the ideological certainties that surrounded it, wrapped in his pledge to drive the United States into “a new age” by reclaiming the values of an older on

Analyzing Obama’s Inaugural Speech

1789 to the Present

Inaugural Words: 1789 to the Present

Photographs From the Inauguration

Photographs From the Inauguration

Critiques of ‘The Speech’

Former speechwriters, including William Safire, critique Barack Obama’s inaugural address.

Analyzing Obama’s Inaugural Speech

It was a delicate task, with Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney sitting feet from him as Mr. Obama, only minutes into his term as president, described the false turns and the roads not taken.

To read his words literally, Mr. Obama blamed no one other than the country itself, critiquing “our collective failure to make hard choices” and a willingness to suspend national ideals “for expedience’s sake” — a clear reference to the cascade of decisions ranging from interrogation policies to wiretapping to the invasion of Iraq.

Yet not since 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a “restoration” of American ethics and “action, and action now” as Herbert Hoover sat and seethed, has a new president so publicly rejected the essence of his predecessor’s path.

When Mr. Obama looked forward, however, he was far less specific about how he would combine his lofty vision and his passion for pragmatism into urgently needed solutions.

Mr. Obama spoke eloquently of the need to “restore science to its rightful place” and to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” But he never acknowledged that his agenda would eventually have to be reconciled with towering budget deficits or spelled out what “unpleasant decisions” he would be willing to make in the service of a renewed America.

At times, Mr. Obama seemed to chastise the nation, quoting Scripture to caution that “the time has come to set aside childish things.” It seemed a call to end an age of overconsumption and the presumption that America had a right to lead the world, a right that he reminded “must be earned.”

The chiding, if most resonant of the last eight years, also harked back to an argument he advanced early in his run for the White House: that the nation had been ill-served by the social, cultural and political divisions of the generation that included Bill Clinton as well as Mr. Bush.

Every time Mr. Obama urged Americans to “choose our better history,” to reject a “false choice” between safety and American ideals and to recognize that American military power does not “entitle us to do as we please,” he was clearly signaling a commitment to remake America’s approach to the world and to embrace pragmatism, not just as a governing strategy but also as a basic value.

It was, in many ways, exactly what one might have expected from a man who propelled himself to the highest office in the land by denouncing how an excess of ideological zeal had taken the nation on a disastrous detour. But what was surprising about the speech was how much he dwelled on the choices America faces, rather than the momentousness of his ascension to the presidency.

Following the course Mr. Obama set during his campaign, he barely mentioned his race. He did not need to. The surroundings said it all as he stood on the steps of a Capitol built by the hands of slaves, and as he placed his own hand on the Bible last used by Abraham Lincoln.

Mr. Obama talked, with echoes of Churchill, of the challenges of taking command of a nation beset by what he called “gathering clouds and raging storms.” As a student of past Inaugural Addresses, he knew what he needed to accomplish. He had to evoke the clarion call for national unity that Lincoln made the centerpiece of his second Inaugural Address, in 1865, married with Franklin Roosevelt’s warning that the market had been allowed to go haywire thanks to the “stubbornness” and “incompetence” of business leaders. And he needed to recall the combination of national inspiration and resoluteness against new enemies that John F. Kennedy delivered in his Inaugural Address, just over six months before Mr. Obama was born.

As his voice and image resonated down the Mall, Mr. Obama spoke across many generations stretching to the Washington Monument and beyond.

Mixed in the crowd were the last remnants of the World War II generation, led by the all-black Tuskegee Airmen for whom Jim Crow was such a daily presence that the arrival of this day seemed unimaginable.

There were middle-aged veterans of the civil rights movement for whom this seemed the crowning achievement of a lifetime of struggles. And there were young Americans — and an overwhelming number of young African-Americans — with no memory of the civil rights movement or of the cold war, for whom Mr. Obama was a symbol of an age of instant messaging, constant networking and integration in every new meaning of the word.

For those three generations, for the veterans who arrived in wheelchairs and the teenagers wearing earphones and tapping on their iPhones, Mr. Obama’s speech was far less important than the moment itself. Many of those who braved the 17 degree chill to swarm onto the Mall at daybreak had said they would not believe America would install a black president until they witnessed him taking the oath of office, even if they had to see it on a Jumbotron a mile from the event.

By the time Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administered that oath (and stumbling on a few of the words, leading the new president to do the same), Mr. Obama’s ascendance was so historic that the address became larger than its own language, more imbued with meaning than anything he could say.

And yet what he did say must have come as a bit of a shock to Mr. Bush. No stranger to criticism, over the past eight years he had rarely been forced to sit in silence listening to a speech about how America had gone off the rails on his watch.

Mr. Obama’s recitation of how much had gone wrong was particularly striking to anyone who had followed Mr. Bush around the country, especially during the re-election campaign of 2004, when he said it was his job “to confront problems, not to pass them on to future presidents and future generations.”

Yet Mr. Obama blamed America’s economic peril on an era “of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some,” and talked of how “the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.” It was an explicit critique of an administration that went to war in the Middle East but rejected the shared sacrifice of conservation, and reluctantly embraced the scientific evidence around global warming.

When Mr. Obama turned to foreign policy, he had a more difficult task: to signal to the world that America’s approach would change without appearing to acknowledge that America’s military was dangerously overstretched or that its will for victory would wane after Mr. Bush departed for Texas.

Mr. Obama never rose to the heights of Kennedy’s “pay any price, bear any burden.” Instead, he harked back to the concept that gave birth to the Peace Corps, noting that the cold war was won “not just with missiles and tanks,” but by leaders who understood “that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.”

The new president skirted past the questions of how he would remake American detention policy, how he would set the rules for interrogation and how he would engage Iran and North Korea, beyond promising to “extend a hand” to those willing “to unclench your fist.” He simply promised to strike the balance differently, as America tries to hew to its ideals while pursuing a strategy of silent strength.

Whether he can execute that change is a test that begins Wednesday morning.

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Obama’s Speech (3)

January 21, 2009

Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

January 20, 2009

(Page 3 of 3)

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

(APPLAUSE)

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.

And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service: a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.

And yet, at this moment, a moment that will define a generation, it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.

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.

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.

Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old.

These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

What is demanded then is a return to these truths. 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, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall. And why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

(APPLAUSE)

So let us mark this day in remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled.

In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by nine campfires on the shores of an icy river.

The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.

At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“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.”

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you.

(APPLAUSE)

And God bless the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

Obama’s Speech (2)

January 21, 2009

Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

Published: January 20, 2009

(Page 2 of 3)

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.

What  the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.

MR. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.

And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.

But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

(APPLAUSE)

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.

Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.

And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.

(APPLAUSE)

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.

They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We’ll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan.

With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.

And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, “Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

(APPLAUSE)

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

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.

To those…

(APPLAUSE)

Obama’s Inaugural Speech(1)

January 21, 2009
Transcript

Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

January 20, 2009

Following is the transcript of President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, as transcribed by CQ Transcriptions:

PRESIDENT BARACK Thank you. Thank you.

CROWD: Obama! Obama! Obama! Obama!

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…

(APPLAUSE)

… 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, 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.

(APPLAUSE)

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.

(APPLAUSE)

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 shortcuts 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 towards 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 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.

(APPLAUSE)

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.

The state of our 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…

(APPLAUSE)

… and lower its costs.

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. All this we will do.

Obama’s Roots (3)

January 21, 2009

In First Family, a Nation’s Many Faces

Published: January 20, 2009

(Page 3 of 3)

Initially, some of the unions in the Obama family caused consternation. “What can you say when your son announces he’s going to marry a Mzungu?” said Sarah Obama in an interview, using the Swahili term for “white person.” But it was too late, she said, because the couple was deeply in love.

Now, the relatives say, their family feels natural and right to them, that they think of each other as individuals, not as members of groups. Ms. Soetoro-Ng said she was not “the Indonesian sister,” but just Maya.

A Special Reunion

On Monday, some of Mr. Obama’s Kenyan relatives milled around the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel here, their colorful headscarves earning them more curious glances than even the sports and pop music stars in the room. Zeituni Onyango, the president’s aunt, explained that their family had always been able to absorb newcomers.

Pointing out that her male relatives used to take on multiple wives, she said, “My daddy said anyone coming into my family is my family.” (Ms. Onyango, who lives in Boston, recently faced deportation charges, but those orders have been stayed and she is pursuing a green card.)

At holidays and celebrations, “you get a whole lot of people who are happy to be around family,” Craig Robinson said. “They happen to be from different cultures, but the common thing is that they are all family.”

“Like the inauguration, those celebrations draw on a happy mishmash of traditions and histories. Take the Obamas’ 1992 wedding, which included Kenyan family in traditional dress, a cloth-binding ceremony in which the bride and groom’s hands were symbolically tied, and blues, jazz and classical music at the reception (held at a cultural center that was once a country club where black and Jewish Chicagoans were denied admission).

White House events may now take on some of the same feel. Four years ago, when the family descended on Washington for Mr. Obama’s Senate swearing-in, Mr. Ng strolled over to the White House gates and took a picture of his then-infant daughter, Suhaila — “gentle” in Swahili — sleeping in her stroller.

Days before leaving Hawaii for the inauguration, Mr. Ng stared at the picture and wondered how much had changed since it was taken. After Tuesday’s ceremony, he said, “folks like me will have a chance to be on the other side.”

Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from Kenya.

Obama’s Roots (2)

January 21, 2009

In First Family, a Nation’s Many Faces

According to Megan Smolenyak, a genealogist who has uncovered the roots of many political figures, Mrs. Obama has ancestors with similar backgrounds across the South. The public records they left behind give only the briefest glimpses of their lives: Fanny Laws Humphrey, one of Mrs. Obama’s great-great-grandmothers, was a cook in Birmingham, Ala., born before the end of the Civil War. Another set of great-great-grandparents, Mary and Nelson Moten, seem to have left Kentucky for Chicago in the early 1860s, a hint they might have been free before the end of the Civil War. And in 1910, some of Mrs. Obama’s ancestors are listed in a census as mulatto, adding some support to family whispers of a white ancestor.

Barack Obama Campaign

Fraser Robinson III and his wife, Marian, with their children, Craig and Michelle, now the first lady. Mr. Robinson put both children through Princeton.

The jobs that her relatives held in the early 20th century — domestic servant, coal sorter, dressmaker — suggest an escape from sharecropping, the system that trapped many former slaves and their children in penury for generations.

Still, the family’s progress has a two steps forward, one step back quality. Jim Robinson was born into slavery, but his son, Fraser, ran a lunch truck in Georgetown. In turn, his son, Fraser Jr., struck out for Chicago in search of something better. But he was unable to find work, and left his wife and children for 14 years, according to his son Nomenee Robinson. As a result, Mrs. Obama’s father was on welfare as a boy and started working on a milk truck at 11.

After serving in the Army in World War II and finally securing a job as a postal clerk, Fraser Robinson Jr. rejoined his family. He was so thrifty that he would bring home chemicals to do the family dry cleaning in the bathtub. But his son — Mrs. Obama’s father, Fraser Robinson III — became overwhelmed with debt and dropped out of college after a year. He worked in a city boiler room for the rest of his life, helping to send his four younger siblings to college, then his two children, Mrs. Obama and her brother, to Princeton.

Classroom Values

For all of the vast differences in the Obama and Robinson histories, a few common threads run through. Education is one of them. As a young man, Mr. Obama’s father herded goats, then won a scholarship to study in the Kenyan capital. When Mr. Obama lived in Indonesia as a child, his mother woke him up for at 4 a.m. for English lessons; meanwhile, in Chicago, Mrs. Obama’s mother was bringing home math and reading workbooks so her children would always be a few lessons ahead in school.

Only through education, generations of Robinsons taught their children, would they ever succeed in a racist society, relatives said. “My mother would say, ‘When you acquire knowledge, you acquire something no one could take away from you,’ ” Craig Robinson said.

The families also share a kind of adventurous self-determination. In the standard telling, the Obama side is the one that bent the rules of geography and ethnicity. Yet the first lady’s family, the supposed South Side traditionalists, includes several members who literally or figuratively ventured far from home. Nomenee Robinson was an early participant in the Peace Corps, serving in India for two years; later, he moved to Nigeria, where he met his wife; the couple now live in Chicago. Capers Funnye Jr., a cousin of Mrs. Obama’s and a rabbi, was brought up in the black church, he said, but as a young man, he felt a calling to Judaism he could not ignore.

In daring cross-cultural leaps, no figure quite matches Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, Mr. Obama’s mother. As a university student in Honolulu, she hung out at the East-West Center, a cultural exchange organization, meeting two successive husbands there: Barack Obama, an economics student from Kenya, and later, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian. Decades later, her daughter Maya Soetoro was picking up fliers at the same East-West Center when she noticed Konrad Ng, a Chinese-Canadian student, now her husband.

Now the Obama-Robinson family’s move to the White House seems like a symbolic end point for the once-firm idea that people of different backgrounds should not date, marry or bear children. In Mr. Obama’s lifetime, racial intermarriage not only became legal everywhere in the United States, but has started to flourish. As many as a quarter of white Americans and nearly half of black Americans belong to a multiracial family, estimates Joshua R. Goldstein of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.

Diversity inside families, said Michael J. Rosenfeld, a sociologist at Stanford University, is “the most interesting kind of diversity there is, because it brings people together cheek by jowl in a way that they never were before.”

“There’s nothing as powerful as family relationships,” Mr. Rosenfeld said, “and that’s why interracial marriage was illegal for so long in the U.S.”

Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from Kenya. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Obama’s Roots

January 21, 2009
A Portrait of Change

In First Family, a Nation’s Many Faces

/By JODI KANTOR

Published: January 20, 2009

WASHINGTON — The president’s elderly stepgrandmother brought him an oxtail fly whisk, a mark of power at home in Kenya. Cousins journeyed from the South Carolina town where the first lady’s great-great-grandfather was born into slavery, while the rabbi in the family came from the synagogue where he had been commemorating Martin Luther King’s Birthday. The president and first lady’s siblings were there, too, of course: his Indonesian-American half-sister, who brought her Chinese-Canadian husband, and her brother, a black man with a white wife.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Three generations of Barack Obama’s family celebrate.

The Caucus

The latest on the inauguration of Barack Obama and other news from Washington and around the nation.


Maya Soetoro-Ng

President Obama hugged his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, at her December 2003 wedding to Konrad Ng, third from right, in Hawaii. From left, his daughters, Sasha and Malia; his grandmother Madelyne Dunham, seated; Konrad’s parents, Joan and Howard Ng, and brother Perry Ng; and Michelle Obama.

When President Barack Obama was sworn in on Tuesday, he was surrounded by an extended clan that would have shocked past generations of Americans and instantly redrew the image of a first family for future ones.

As they convened to take their family’s final step in its journey from Africa and into the White House, the group seemed as if it had stepped out of the pages of Mr. Obama’s memoir — no longer the disparate kin of a young man wondering how he fit in, but the embodiment of a new president’s promise of change.

For well over two centuries, the United States has been vastly more diverse than its ruling families. Now the Obama family has flipped that around, with a Technicolor cast that looks almost nothing like their overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly Protestant predecessors in the role. The family that produced Barack and Michelle Obama is black and white and Asian, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. They speak English; Indonesian; French; Cantonese; German; Hebrew; African languages including Swahili, Luo and Igbo; and even a few phrases of Gullah, the Creole dialect of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Very few are wealthy, and some — like Sarah Obama, the stepgrandmother who only recently got electricity and running water in her metal-roofed shack — are quite poor.

“Our family is new in terms of the White House, but I don’t think it’s new in terms of the country,” Maya Soetoro-Ng, the president’s younger half-sister, said last week. “I don’t think the White House has always reflected the textures and flavors of this country.”

Though the world is recognizing the inauguration of the first African-American president, the story is a more complex narrative, about immigration, social mobility and the desegregation of one of the last divided institutions in American life: the family. It is a tale of self-determination, full of refusals to follow the tracks laid by history or religion or parentage.

Mr. Obama follows the second President Bush, who had a presidential son’s self-assured grip on power. Aside from a top-quality education, the new president came to politics with none of his predecessor’s advantages: no famous last name, no deep-pocketed parents to finance early forays into politics and, in fact, not much of a father at all. So Mr. Obama built his political career from scratch, with best-selling books and long-shot runs for office, leaving his relatives astonished at where he has brought them.

“It is so mind-boggling that there is a black president,” Craig Robinson, Mrs. Obama’s brother, said in an interview. “Then you layer on top of it that I am related to him? And then you layer on top of that that it’s my brother-in-law? That is so overwhelming, I can’t hardly think about it.”

Though Mr. Obama is the son of a black Kenyan, he has some conventionally presidential roots on his white mother’s side: abolitionists who, according to family legend, were chased out of Missouri, a slave state; Midwesterners who weathered the Depression; even a handful of distant ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War. (Ever since he became a United States senator, the Sons of the American Revolution has tried to recruit him. )

But far less has been known about Mrs. Obama’s roots — even by the first lady herself. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, “it was sort of passed-down folklore that so-and-so was related to so-and-so and their mother and father was a slave,” Mr. Robinson said.

Drawing on old census data, family records and interviews, it is clear that Mrs. Obama is indeed the descendant of slaves and a daughter of the Great Migration, the mass movement of African-Americans northward in the first half of the 20th century in search of opportunity. Mrs. Obama’s family found it, but not without outsize measures of adversity and disappointment along the way.

Tracing Family Roots

Only five generations ago, the first lady’s great-great-grandfather, Jim Robinson, was born a slave on Friendfield Plantation in Georgetown, S.C., where he almost certainly drained swamps, harvested rice and was buried in an unmarked grave. As a child, Mrs. Obama used to visit her Georgetown relatives, but she only learned during the campaign that her forebears had been enslaved in the same town where she and her cousins had played.

Obama and Martin Luther King

January 21, 2009

The Special Connection Between Obama and King!

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With the constant comparisons between “the dreamer,” Dr. Martin Luther King and President-Elect Barack Obama, it is almost inevitable that even both great men’s fortunes would continue to be tied to to each other. In his recent commentary, former personal counsel, adviser, draft speech writer and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Clarence B. Jones examines this phenomenon in his insightful piece.

Jones assertion is that Obama has tried to minimize his race to attract broad appeal at the expense of lions of the civil rights generation. While their are obvious contrasts between Obama and King, Jones feels if the President-elect has not gone far enough to make that connection and in his estimation that has been a mistake.

“January 15th, 2009 will mark what would have been the 80th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. On January 19th we commemorate Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday. The following day, “January 20th, a country that, within living memory, denied some black citizens the right to vote will inaugurate its first black president. A man with a funny name and African blood will stand where 43 white men have stood before him and take the oath of office.”

August 28th, 2008 in Denver, Colorado, Senator Obama accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination as its candidate for president of the United States. His acceptance speech was 40 years to the day of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. At the time I thought it would have been appropriate for Senator Obama, in his speech to the Democratic Party National Convention, to specifically acknowledge the historic coincidence of his nomination on the 40th Anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream.”

Presumably, Senator Obama, his advisors and speech writers concluded that a passing reference to “a preacher from Georgia” 40 years ago in the acceptance speech was sufficient acknowledgment of the coincidence of both his and Dr. King’s historic address to the “March On Washington” on the same date, August 28th, 1963.

Respectfully, I’d suggest that was a mistake.

Now that Obama has become America’s first African-American president elect, I hope that in his inaugural address, the day following our national holiday commemorating Dr. King’s birthday, he will make specific reference to the confluence of these two historic events in our nation’s capital.

Recently I spent a week in Paris as the guest of the French organization, SOS Racisme. My invitation was part of Paris’s celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Ninth World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates and commemoration of the legacy of Dr. King, 40 years after his death.

Nobel Laureates F. W. de Klerk of South Africa (1993 joint recipient with Nelson Mandela), David Hume of Northern Ireland, Ingrid Betancourt (former presidential candidate in Columbia, and a prisoner of the FARC guerillas for several years), and Lech Walesa of Poland gathered to bestow their annual “Peace Award” on Bono, the Irish musician and political activist. (Mikhail Gorbachev was absent because of medical reasons.) First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy and Bertrand Delanoe, Mayor of Paris were also present.

The questions most asked of me during the Conference were:

Is Barack Obama another Martin Luther King, Jr?

What would Dr. King say about the election of Obama?

Is the election of Obama as the first African-American president of the United States mean that Dr. King’s dream has been fulfilled?

Did I ever think an African-American would become president of the United States 40 years after the death of Dr. King?

Does Obama’s election indicate that racism for all practical purposes no longer exist in America?

Will Obama’s election have any impact upon the number of African-American men incarcerated of the high percentage of out of wedlock births within the African-American community?

Having witnessed history first-hand with Dr. King and being fortunate to be one of his few advisors to live to witness the history-in-the-making that is the Obama presidency, I uniquely bridge a gap. I have both the honor and the responsibility to try and answer the overarching question: What would Martin Luther King, Jr. say about Senator Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States?

Dr. King had an abiding belief in the basic goodness, fairness and decency of America. He never abandoned his confidence that a majority of Americans would ultimately embrace the precepts of our Declaration of Independence: That all persons are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

He never doubted or lost faith in his religion, nor the righteousness of God. Martin would probably smile and say “Amen” as he listened to Senator Obama say, more than once, during the closing weeks of his presidential campaign that we have a “righteous wind at our back, but we can’t slow down now.”

To read the rest of Jones’ commentary, click here.


Inauguration in America

January 20, 2009

More than 40,000 armed personnel pressed into service; detectors and checkpoints sprout along Mall Security for inauguration will be tightest ever

From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail

WASHINGTON — Cocooned in a nearly invisible, bulletproof Plexiglas bubble, under the watchful gaze of snipers perched atop the memorial honouring the first assassinated president, America’s first family-elect and thousands of fans got a preview Sunday of the pervasive and unprecedented security for today’s inauguration.

Today, during both the swearing-in on the west side of the Capitol and the parade along Pennsylvania Avenue, security will be tighter than ever for the inauguration of the first African-American president.

Warplanes are already circling Washington, bridges across the Potomac will be closed, thousands of extra police and soldiers have been mobilized and chemical- and biological-weapons detectors have sprouted along the Mall.

With huge crowds expected and everyone bundled in heavy coats against bitter winter weather, keeping today’s inauguration safe without destroying the celebratory mood remains a security nightmare.

“We have to be prepared for the lone individual, who will try to interrupt the event, all the way up to a terrorist organization,” Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said.

The days are long gone when presidents rode in open cars. Barack Obama will ride in a brand new, bombproof Cadillac. Bulletproof glass will wall him off from the crowds, even during the swearing-in ceremony. Details are closely guarded but Mr. Obama may – just may – hop out of the armoured limousine to shake hands with a few well-wishers on his way to the White House after the inauguration. Otherwise, glad-handing will be restricted to well-heeled, carefully screened and invited guests at the plethora of balls staged tonight.

Protecting the President may be easier today than making sure that millions of ordinary Americans are safe.

The sheer scale of the inauguration and the enormity of the expected crowds pose a huge challenge. Some estimates predict more than four million will turn the Mall into the most densely packed place on the planet, if only for a few hours. A single suicide bomber could kill or maim hundreds in the crush.

Thousands of remote-controlled cameras, a special high-tech operations centre, plainclothes police scattered throughout the throngs and a massive armed presence all are designed to deter attack.

Counterterrorist agencies claim they have received no credible evidence of any serious plot either against the president-elect or designed to disrupt the inauguration.

Nevertheless, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden called last week for renewed jihad, or holy war, to drive U.S. soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“If he withdraws from the war, it is military defeat,” the al-Qaeda leader said of Mr. Obama. “And if he continues it, he drowns in economic crisis.”

In fact, more U.S. military personal will deploy to protect the inauguration than are currently fighting in Afghanistan.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Washington has been transformed. Huge concrete barricades protect government buildings against truck bombs, heavy steel bollards line parks and avenues and massive barriers that rise up from roadways have been installed.

Surface-to-air missiles are mounted atop the White House and combat air patrols circle the city at times of heightened security – like today.

President George W. Bush has designated the inauguration of his successor a “national special security event” that makes the Secret Service the lead agency for all of the combined security arrangements.

More than 40,000 armed personnel, including police and military drawn from dozens of units and surrounding states have been pressed into service.

Although hundreds of thousands of people are expected to stream into the city, mostly on foot or by Metro, which is girding for its busiest day ever, they have all been warned that a long list of items is forbidden.

Strollers for toddlers, umbrellas and even thermoses and drink containers are banned. So are poles for carrying signs and large banners, and bicycles, as well as the more obvious knives, guns and laser pointers.

Pets, except service dogs, are not allowed. Alcohol is outlawed.

Everyone has been warned to expect long waits – up to three hours to get through security points. The elderly, the infirm and young children have been advised to stay away. Six-hour walks and bitter weather are only part of the reason. Security forces want to minimize risks and that includes encouraging the attendance of only the fit and able-bodied, those capable of moving quickly if an evacuation is required.

More than a quarter-million ticket holders, essentially everyone likely to actually see the president directly, will have to enter cordoned-off zones through metal detectors and security screens.

For the multitudes expected to stretch out along the three-kilometre expanse of the Mall, most of whom will see the swearing-in and the parade only on huge monitors, security screening will be less intrusive. But the entire Mall has been fenced off. Nearly nine square kilometres of downtown Washington have been closed to all but authorized traffic.

Huge illuminated signs along major roadways warn motorists of delays and closings and urge them to “report suspicious activity.”

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who has ultimate responsibility for the huge inauguration-day operation, has had his tenure extended one day to allow continuity of command.

“We’re not, at this point, aware of a credible, specific, imminent threat that would affect the inauguration,” he said earlier this month.

*****

Pomp and circumstance

Inauguration day in the United States is filled with ceremony, tradition and celebration. It starts early today, with a prayer service, and ends early tomorrow when the last inaugural ball ends. Here’s how the day will unfold.

THE DAY

1. 4 a.m. Washington lockdown begins in the “hot zone” around the downtown core.

6:30 a.m. Lockdown eases and people are allowed into the hot zone, including media, parade-goers and people who have tickets to see the inauguration.

2. 8 a.m. Barack Obama attends a morning worship service, a tradition that began with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.

3. President-elect and first lady travel by motorcade to the White House for a ceremonial session with the outgoing President and staff.

4. 10:30 a.m. Incoming and outgoing presidents ride together to the Capitol, as do other senior staff.

5. 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Inauguration (see inset).

6. After the ceremony, Mr. Obama walks through the Rotunda out to east steps to bid farewell to the former president and vice-president, who depart aboard a Marine helicopter.

7. Mr. Obama makes a brief visit to the President’s Room to sign his first official orders.

8. Inaugural luncheon in the Statuary Hall begins at 1 p.m.

9. Mr. Obama begins the review of the troops at 2:20 p.m. before entering car to start the parade at 2:35 p.m.

*****

THE CEREMONY

Opening music by the United States Marine Band, the San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of Congress’s joint committee on inaugural ceremonies, calls the ceremony to order.

Rick Warren, an evangelical pastor, gives the invocation.

Aretha Franklin sings.

Joe Biden takes the vice-president’s oath.

Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero and Anthony McGill play music by John Williams.

Barack Obama takes the president’s oath, and then delivers the inaugural address.

Poet and Yale professor Elizabeth Alexander recites a verse written for the occasion.

Joseph E. Lowery, a civil-rights-era clergyman, gives the benediction.

The Sea Chanters, a United States Navy band, plays the National Anthem.

Obama

“God help America”

Will Barack Obama refer to God in his inaugural speech?

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It is a ceremony drenched in religious custom – inaugural and closing prayer, oaths sworn on the Bible, services in the National Cathedral.

For America’s atheists, the religious elements, as Ruth Gledhill reports of today’s ceremony to make Barack Obama the 44th president of America, may be highly offensive. Some claim it is constitutionally unecessary for America’s first African-American president to take the oath of office swearing on a Bible and have tried and failed to achieve a legal ban on the words “so help me God” traditionally tagged by past Presidents at the end of the 35-word oath. The words are attributed – according to an unverified tradition – to George Washington, said to have uttered them on assuming the presidency in 1789.

Even had the atheists – led by the Californian attorney Michael Newdow – succeeded in their bid to ban “so help me God” – they would still face the likelihood of listening to the new President refer to the Almighty in his inaugural speech.

It will be highly unusual if Obama does not: according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies almost all presidential inaugural speeches have contained some reference to the Divine. The only exception? Washington’s second speech to take office, a mere 135 words in length.

Here is Faith Online’s list of 10 inaugural presidential speeches that alluded either to God or to faith.

1. Right from the start, God’s blessing upon America, his chosen people, has been a constant theme of inaugural speeches. In 1797, the nation’s second president John Adams, called, in his inaugural speech upon “that Being who is supreme over all” to “continue his blessing upon this nation.”

2. America was not only blessed, but assured Divine protection. Or so the words of James Madison, suggested in his 1809 speech, which spoke of the “guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being… whose blessings have been so conspiscuously dispensed to this rising Republic.”

3. By 1845, the incoming president James Knox Polk was describing America as a “heaven-favoured land”.

4. However, divine involvement could proved a double-edged blessing. Abraham Lincoln used his second inaugural address, delivered in 1865, to infer the Civil War was a punishment for slavery which he described as an “offense which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came”.

5. Nearly a century later, John F Kennedy declared: “I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago. The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe-the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

6. His successor Lyndon Baines Johnson, perhaps shaken by JFK’s murder was less sanguine, suggesting “we have no promise from God that our greatness will endure,” although recognising with confidence that Americans had been “allowed by Him to seek greatness with the sweat of our hands and the strength of our spirit.”

7. A sense of America’s divine mission to the world, impregnated earlier inaugural speeches, such as Calvin Coolidge’s 1923 speech which stated that America did not seek an earthly empire “built on blood and force,” but instead that “the legions which she sends forth are armed, not with the sword, but with the cross.”

8. God’s involvement in the presidency has been, in the minds of successive American leaders, in little doubt. Coolidge’s successor Herbert Hoover described taking the oath of office in 1929 as “not alone the adminstration of the most “sacred oath, which can be assumed by an American citizen, but “a dedicated and consecration under God to the highest office in service of our people”. In 1953, Dwight G. Eisenhower began his inaugural speech with “a little private prayer of my own” before urging Americans to strive for world peace in the first inaugural presidential address to be broadcast live on television.

9. “We trust in God”, that motto emblazoned on America’s coins, has also been a failsafe of inaugural Presidential addresses. Ronald Reagan not only stated in his 1981 address that America was “a nation under God” which he believed God intended to be free” but went on to suggest that it would be “fitting and good” if each future inauguration day should “be declared a day of prayer.”

10. And finally… in 2001 George W. Bush referred while taking office to “the American story” by which he meant one of “flawed and fallible people, united across the generations by grand and enduring ideals,” who were “guided by a power larger than ourselves who creates us equal in his image,” an echo of Harry Truman’s words in 1945: “ We believe that all men are created equal because they are created in the image of God.”

The First Black President in the USA

January 20, 2009

Stepping into history, Barack Hussein Obama prepared to grasp the reins of power today, Tuesday, as America’s first black president in a high-noon inauguration amid grave economic worries and high expectations.

Braving icy temperatures, hundreds of thousands of people descended on this heavily guarded capital city for the first change of administrations since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Washington, a quick starter on even the most ordinary of days, took on the kind of frenetic predawn life rarely seen. The streets were populated well before daybreak, and competition for space on the Metro subway system was fierce.

Several suburban parking lots for subway riders were filled to capacity well before 6 a.m.

Two years after beginning his improbable quest as a little-known, first-term Illinois senator with a foreign-sounding name, Obama was moving into the Oval Office as the nation’s fourth youngest president, at 47, and the first African-American, a racial barrier-breaking achievement believed impossible by generations of minorities.

Around the world, the election of Obama electrified millions with the hope that America will be more embracing and more open to change.

The dawn of the new Democratic era – with Obama allies in charge of both houses of Congress – ends eight years of Republican control of the White House by George W. Bush. He leaves Washington as one of the nation’s most unpopular and divisive presidents, the architect of two unfinished wars and the man in charge at a time of an economic downturn that has swept away many Americans’ jobs, savings, homes and dreams.

Bush, following tradition, left a note for Obama in the top drawer of his desk in the Oval Office.

Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, said the theme of the message – which Bush wrote on Monday – was similar to what he has said since election night about how Obama was about to start a “fabulous new chapter” in the United States, and that he wished him well.

The unfinished business of the Bush administration thrusts an enormous burden onto Obama’s shoulders. Pre-inauguration polls showed Americans believed Obama was on track to succeed and were confident he could turn the economy around. He has cautioned that improvements will take time and that things will get worse before they get better.

Culminating four days of celebration, the script for Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden at the nation’s 56th inauguration was to begin with a traditional morning worship service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Park from the White House, and end with dancing and partying at 10 inaugural balls lasting deep into the night.

By custom, Obama and his wife, Michelle, were invited to the White House for coffee with Bush and his wife, Laura, followed by a shared ride in a sleek, heavily armored Cadillac limousine to the U.S. Capitol for the transfer of power, an event flashed around the world in television and radio broadcasts, podcasts and Internet streaming.

On Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney pulled a muscle in his back, leaving him in a wheelchair for the inauguration.

Before noon, Obama was to step forward on the West Front of the Capitol to lay his left hand on the same Bible that President Abraham Lincoln used at his first inauguration in 1861. The 35-word oath of office, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts, has been uttered by every president since George Washington. Obama was one of 22 Democratic senators to vote against Roberts’ confirmation to the Supreme Court in 2005.

The son of a Kansas-born mother and Kenya-born father, Obama decided to use his full name in the swearing-in ceremony.

The Constitution says the clock – not the pomp, ceremony and oaths – signals the transfer of the office from the old president to the new one.

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution specifies that the terms of office of the president and vice president “shall end at noon on the 20th day of January” and adds that “the terms of their successors shall then begin.”

To the dismay of liberals, Obama invited the conservative evangelical pastor Rick Warren, an opponent of gay rights, to give the inaugural invocation.

About a dozen members of Obama’s Cabinet and top appointees – including Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton – were ready for Senate confirmation on Tuesday, provided no objections were raised.

More than 10,000 people from all 50 states – including bands and military units – were assembled to follow Obama and Biden from the Capitol on the 1.5-mile, or 2.4-kilometer, inaugural parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue, concluding at a bulletproof reviewing stand in front of the White House. Security was unprecedented. Most bridges into Washington and about 3.5 square miles, or 9 square kilometers, of downtown were closed.

Obama’s inauguration represented a time of renewal and optimism for a nation gripped by fear and anxiety. Stark numbers tell the story of an economic debacle unrivaled since the 1930s.

Eleven million people have lost their jobs, pushing the unemployment rate to 7.2 percent, a 16-year high.

One in 10 U.S. homeowners is delinquent on mortgage payments or in arrears.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell by 33.8 percent in 2008, the worst decline since 1931, and stocks lost $10 trillion in value between October 2007 and November 2008.

Obama and congressional Democrats have been working on an $825 billion economic recovery bill that would provide an enormous infusion of public spending and tax cuts. Obama also will have at his disposal the remaining $350 billion in the federal financial bailout fund. His goal is to save or create 3 million jobs and put banks back in the job of lending to customers.

In an appeal for bipartisanship, Obama honored his defeated Republican presidential rival, John McCain, at a dinner Monday night. “There are few Americans who understand this need for common purpose and common effort better than John McCain,” Obama said.

On Wednesday, his first working day in office, Obama was expected to redeem his campaign promise to begin the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq under a 16-month timetable.n his inaugural speech, Barack Obama said that Americans must “dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”

n his inaugural speech, Barack Obama said that Americans must “dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America”.