Speak President Obama, Speak!: Obama’s Inaugural Address

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 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 forebearers, 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, 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 fainthearted — 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 toward

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 like 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.

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. And 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. 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 — 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, 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 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 defeat you.

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 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

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 today, 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 60

years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now

stand before you to take a most sacred oath. 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

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.

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