of President Barack Obama's inaugural address
Capital Press 1/20/09
President Barack Obama's inaugural address on Tuesday, as
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,
as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout
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 forebears, and true to our founding
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 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
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 Sanh.
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
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. All this we will do.
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. 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. 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 - and that a 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 our
ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of
charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between
our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers ... our found
fathers, faced with perils 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 the 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
that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism
not just with missiles and tanks, but with 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 will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people,
and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and
former foes, we will 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
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 non-believers. 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 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.
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 - hard
work and honesty, 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 sixty years ago might not have been served at a
local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred
So let us mark this day with 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 dying
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
"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
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. And God bless the United States of