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 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 forebears, 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 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 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 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 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. 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 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 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 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.


Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

 

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