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Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday and promised to “begin again the work of remaking America” on a day of celebration that climaxed a once-inconceivable journey for the man and his country. Mr. Obama, the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, inherited a White House built partly by slaves and a nation in crisis at home and abroad. The moment captured the imagination of much of the world as more than a million flag-waving people bore witness while Mr. Obama recited the oath with his hand on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used at his inauguration 148 years ago.5:23 PM 1/21/2009
Beyond the politics of the occasion, the sight of a black man climbing the highest peak electrified people across racial, generational and partisan lines. Mr. Obama largely left it to others to mark the history explicitly, making only passing reference to his own barrier-breaking role in his 18-minute Inaugural Address, noting how improbable it might seem that “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.”
But confronted by the worst economic situation in decades, two overseas wars and the continuing threat of Islamic terrorism, Mr. Obama sobered the celebration with a grim assessment of the state of a nation rocked by home foreclosures, shuttered businesses, lost jobs, costly health care, failing schools, energy dependence and the threat of climate change. Signaling a sharp and immediate break with the presidency of George W. Bush, he vowed to usher in a “new era of responsibility” and restore tarnished American ideals.
“Today, I say to you that the challenges we face are real,” Mr. Obama said in the address, delivered from the west front of the Capitol. “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.”
The vast crowd that thronged the Mall on a frigid but bright winter day was the largest to attend an inauguration in decades, if not ever. Many then lined Pennsylvania Avenue for a parade that continued well past nightfall on a day that was not expected to end for Mr. Obama until late in the night with the last of 10 inaugural balls.
Mr. Bush left the national stage quietly, doing nothing to upstage his successor. After hosting the Obamas for coffee at the White House and attending the ceremony at the Capitol, Mr. Bush hugged Mr. Obama, then left through the Rotunda to head back to Texas. “Come on, Laura, we’re going home,” he was overheard telling Mrs. Bush.
The inauguration coincided with more bad news from Wall Street, with the Dow Jones industrial average down more than 300 points on indications of further trouble for banks.
The spirit of the day was also marred by the hospitalization of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, whose endorsement helped propel Mr. Obama to the Democratic nomination last year. Mr. Kennedy, who has been fighting a malignant brain tumor, suffered a seizure at a Capitol luncheon after the ceremony and was wheeled out on a stretcher.
The pageantry included some serious business. Shortly after he and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. were sworn in, Mr. Obama ordered all pending Bush regulations frozen for a legal and policy review. He also signed formal nomination papers for his cabinet, and the Senate quickly confirmed seven nominees: the secretaries of homeland security, energy, agriculture, interior, education and veterans’ affairs and the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
When he arrives in the Oval Office on Wednesday, aides said, Mr. Obama will get to work on some of his priorities. He plans to convene his national security team and senior military commanders to discuss his plans to pull combat troops out of Iraq and bolster those in Afghanistan. He also plans to sign executive orders to start closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and could reverse Mr. Bush’s restrictions on financing for groups that promote or provide information about abortion.
Delays in the confirmation process have left both the State Department and the Treasury Department in the hands of caretakers. But Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to win Senate confirmation as secretary of state on Wednesday, and the Pentagon remains under the control of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was kept on from the Bush administration and did not attend the inauguration so someone in the line of succession would survive in case of terrorist attack.
In his address, Mr. Obama praised Mr. Bush “for his service to our nation as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.” But he also offered implicit criticism, condemning what he called “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”
He went on to assure the rest of the world that change had come. “To all other peoples and governments who are watching today,” Mr. Obama said, “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.”
Some of Mr. Obama’s supporters booed and taunted Mr. Bush when he emerged from the Capitol to take his place on stage, at one point singing, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” By day’s end, Mr. Bush had landed in Texas, where he defended his presidency and declared that he was “coming home with my head held high.”
The departing vice president, Dick Cheney, appeared at the ceremony in a wheelchair after suffering a back injury moving the day before and was also booed.
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