Few presidents have come into office facing as serious a set of problems as Barack Obama. The economy was in crisis and the country involved in two wars. But Americans, including many who had not voted for him, viewed Obama’s election as a cause for optimism. Two days after his victory, a poll found two-thirds of Americans describing themselves as proud of the result, and 60 percent excited at the prospect of an Obama administration.

On January 20, 2009, a day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and more than forty-five years after King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Obama was inaugurated as president. More than 1 million people traveled to Washington to view the historic event. In his inaugural address (see the full text in the Appendix), Obama offered a stark rebuke to eight years of Bush policies and, more broadly, to the premises that had shaped government policy since the election of Reagan. He promised a foreign policy based on diplomacy rather than unilateral force, pledged to protect the environment, spoke of the need to combat income inequality and lack of access to health care, and blamed a culture of “greed and irresponsibility” for helping to bring on the economic crisis. He promised to renew respect for the Constitution. Unlike Bush, Obama said little about freedom in his speech, other than to note that the country could enjoy liberty and security at the same time rather than having to choose between them. Instead of freedom, he spoke of community and responsibility. His address harked back to the revolutionary-era ideal of putting the common good before individual self-interest.

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