“A New Era of Responsibility”

Posted Jan. 20, 2009, at 4:57 p.m.

The man who inspired millions with his message of hope on the presidential campaign trail offers a sobering, but necessary, dose of reality Tuesday. In his speech after being sworn in as the country’s 44th president, Barack Obama spoke of a “new era of responsibility” and the need to make difficult decisions. But, he added on an optimistic note, if America returns to its ideals of equality, compassion and virtue, these difficult times can be overcome.

“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 there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task,” the new president said on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Although President Bush frequently talked of an “ownership society” in which Americans were to take responsibility for their actions and their well-being (and their finances through the failed bid to privatize Social Security), there was little follow-up from the White House to turn this notion into reality. It also focused on taking care of yourself, rather than helping a neighbor or someone in a distant land.

Of course, it will take much more than lofty rhetoric to spur Americans to rectify “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age,” as President Obama put it. It will take consistent and forceful direction from the White House and Congress, direction the new president has pledged to provide.

President Obama’s speech also included strong repudiations of the Bush administration, calling for government to operate in “the light of day” as opposed to the secrecy of the last eight years. He criticized a nation that favors only the prosperous and that consumes much of the world’s resources without regard to the condition of the planet. He was most harsh with regard to the so-called war on terrorism.

“As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideas,” President Obama said. “Our Founding Fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man.

“Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake,” he added in clear reference to the former administration’s wiretapping phone calls and holding enemy combatants for years without charging them with crimes, which the U.S. Supreme Court has three times ruled is unconstitutional.

Millions of people packed the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and watched the historic inauguration on televisions across the country. Many of them were buoyed by President Obama’s life story and charisma.

Now, they hold high hopes that he can right the country’s economy, bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, quell terrorism and tackle dozens of other issues.

President Obama pledged to meet challenges with resolve and realism. “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.”

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