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Barack Obama inauguration: world waits for the 17 minute speech January 20, 2009

Posted by Daniel Martin in General.

Article retrieved from the online edition of The Times

Twenty-four hours before being inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama picked up a brush yesterday and painted a wall. “This is good practice, ’cause I’m moving to a new house tomorrow,” he told fellow volunteers.

A volunteer at the teenage homeless shelter in this run-down black part of Washington asked if he had worked up a sweat. “Nah, I don’t sweat,” replied the shirt-sleeved President-elect. “You ever see me sweat?”

For all the apparent absence of perspiration, there was still plenty of inspiration for Mr Obama. He called on America to commemorate the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s birth by joining him in a day of service, saying: “Don’t underestimate the power for people to pull together and to accomplish amazing things.”

The national holiday fell the day before an inauguration which is inevitably being seen as the fulfilment of Dr King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered in Washington in 1963.

Although Mr Obama has acknowledged that the prospect of a black president is a “remarkable moment”, yesterday he sought to put it into a wider context of national, as well as racial, reconciliation.

“Tomorrow, we will come together as one people on the same Mall where Dr King’s dream echoes still. As we do, we recognise that here in America, our destinies are inextricably linked,” said Mr Obama. “We resolve that as we walk, we must walk together. And as we go forward in the work of renewing the promise of this nation, let’s remember King’s lesson – that our separate dreams are really one.”

Mr Obama knows that not all his tasks over the coming weeks will be as easy as painting a wall. In recent days he has emphasised that supporters will need to show patience as he seeks to tackle economic crisis at home and conflict abroad.

“It will take more than a month or a year, and it will likely take many,” he told a rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday. “Along the way there will be setbacks and false starts.”

At a visit to a Washington high school later, Mr Obama once more emphasised the need for service and a spirit of self-help. “I am making a commitment to you as the next president, that we are going to make government work,” he said. “But I can’t do it by myself. Governments can only do so much,” he said. “If we’re waiting for someone else to do something, it never gets done.”

Today, when he delivers one of the most eagerly anticipated inaugural speeches of modern times, Mr Obama is expected to urge his country to unite behind a common resolve for “renewing America’s promise”.

Aides say that he will stress the need for more responsibility to be shown by all Americans, as well as government and financial institutions, in getting the country “back on track”.

Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, said that Mr Obama would ask the nation to reject the “culture of anything goes”.

At 17 minutes long, Mr Obama’s inaugural address is expected to be shorter than many of those that have come before. “My job in this speech is just to remind people of the road we’ve travelled and the extraordinary odds that we’ve already overcome. We’ve been through tougher times before and we are going to get through these,” he said.

His task is to temper optimism with a recognition of tough times ahead – and balance the historic charge and emotions surrounding his election with his core message that what binds America together matters more than that which for so long drove it apart.

Some, however, are not heeding the message of national unity. While Washington will be filled with celebrating Democrats today, many Republicans are leaving town to lick their wounds and look for jobs.

The switch of administrations has put about 8,000 Republicans out of work. Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, is making a speech in Montreal. Charlie Spies, who worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, is hosting a party in Las Vegas. Others are heading to the Caribbean.

“It’s a sort of custom,” said David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter who is hosting an alternative inauguration party tonight. “If the other side has won, you don’t want to deal with the traffic.”

President Bush yesterday made one of his final decisions in office, commuting two former Texas border guards’ sentence for shooting a drug dealer, as he packed his bags to head home to the Lone Star state.



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