Obama's Inaugural Address: 'We Must Pick Ourselves Up'

But Obama also had words that may encourage centrists and perhaps some conservatives: "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."

To those beyond America's borders, Obama made this pledge: "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."

Addressing areas of conflict, he said: "We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. ..."

To the Muslim world, he said: "We seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. ..." He had a message also for "leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West" and "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 unclinch your fist."

To the people of poor nations, Obama "pledged to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds."

Obama's Message of Responsibility

As Obama came near to the end of his brief address, he emphasized his message of responsibility that his aides had said would be one of the most important themes. If some of this sounds similar to John F. Kennedy's exhortation in his inaugural address, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," it should come as no surprise. Obama said he consulted JFK's address among others, and that he found inspiration in it.

Here is how Obama put his call to the nation: "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 grandly, 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 promise of citizenship."

America's first African-American president noted 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."

At his closing, Obama melded past with future, remembering the hardships endured by George Washington's troops "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." He quoted Washington: "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]."

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