Stepping into history, Barack Hussein Obama grasped the reins of power today as America’s first black president, declaring the nation must choose “hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord” to overcome the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In frigid temperatures, an exuberant crowd of more than a million packed the National Mall and parade route to celebrate Obama’s inauguration in a high-noon ceremony. Waving and cheering in jubilation, they stretched from the inaugural platform at the U.S. Capitol toward the Lincoln Memorial in the distance.
With 11 million Americans out of work and trillions of dollars lost in the stock market’s tumble, Obama emphasized that his biggest challenge is to repair the tattered economy left behind by outgoing President George W. Bush. “Our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed,” Obama said. “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin the work of remaking America.”
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. He was rushed from a Senate luncheon in honor of Obama. “This is a joyous time, but it’s also a sobering time,” Obama said. “And my prayers are with him and his family and (Kennedy’s wife) Vicki.” Sen. Robert C. Byrd also was taken from the luncheon but it was not clear whether his departure was prompted by his health.