Obama Speech Calls for 'Era of Responsibility'

Obama spends MLK Day volunteering, visiting wounded soldiers.

ByJAKE TAPPER via logo
January 19, 2009, 8:12 AM

Jan. 19, 2009— -- After a weekend of gala events with casts of thousands, President-elect Barack Obama spent the day before his inauguration applying a more personal touch, as he helped paint a shelter for homeless teens and visited with wounded soldiers.

"I think I've got this wall covered," Obama said after rolling light blue paint on the wall of a boys' dorm at the Sasha Bruce Youthwork shelter. "What else you got for me?"

Obama's stint as a painter was part of his way of honoring Martin Luther King Day and encouraging volunteerism.

"Don't underestimate the power of people who join together… they can accomplish amazing things," Obama said during a break in painting.

When asked if he was experienced at painting walls, Obama replied, "It's not rocket science. You take the roller, put some paint on it and then you roll .... You do have to apply a little elbow grease like in anything you do."

Michelle Obama along with daughters Malia and Sasha were elsewhere in Washington helping to assemble care packages for U.S. troops overseas.

The president-elect later joined his wife Michelle at a lunch honoring other volunteers, including a squad of cheerleaders who gave him an impromptu cheer.

Obama started the day at Walter Reed Hospital where he visited with 14 soldiers who had been wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan. That visit was private and no press was allowed to accompany him.

To mark Martin Luther King Day, Obama released a statement linking King's "I Have a Dream" speech on the Washington Mall 45 years ago and his own ascension to the nation's top job, saying, "Tomorrow, we will come together as one people on the same mall where Dr. King's dream echoes still."

Today's events, however, were little more than a countdown to Tuesday's history making swearing-in and the anticipation of Obama's inauguration speech.

The speech has been written and rehearsed, but Obama is still tinkering with the words that he hopes will mark a moment in history and galvanize the nation for a new "era of responsibility."

That speech will begin shortly after his swearing-in with Michelle Obama holding President Lincoln's Bible.

Sources tell ABC News that the remarks delivered to a hushed nation tomorrow will last about 15 to 20 minutes, and the theme is an era of responsibility.

That theme comes after months of headlines about the country's economic meltdown and general outrage over corporate greed and executive bonuses.

Obama rehearsed the speech Saturday, but he is still going through it, trying to make sure the language is as fresh and unique as possible.

Not that there's any pressure. Obama said that when he visited the Lincoln Memorial with his family this past weekend, daughter Sasha saw Lincoln's inaugural speech on the walls of the memorial and remarked that it looked like a long speech.

Obama countered that his own would probably be longer.

"At which point Malia turns to me and says, 'First African-American president, better be good,'" Obama told CNN.

Obama Inauguration a Long Celebration

The inauguration will mark the climax of a weekend-long celebration -- and for African-Americans, a 200-year wait for the country to live up to its promise of equality for everyone, regardless of skin color.

Gov. Deval Patrick, the first black governor of Massachusetts, said his friend and president-elect has a tall order in his speech because the "excitement is absolutely palpable." Obama must also address the problems the nation faces, including a financial crisis, two wars and the looming threats from around the world.

"It will be very candid and very appropriate in the sense that he will strike a balance between the momentous nature of the occasion but also the huge challenges in front of us," Patrick said.

"I think he will strike tomorrow the perfect tone, because he will call upon the American people to answer the call of service, to answer the call to help reform government and to be accountable to the American people."

Obama will also be subject to high expectations. The politician known for wowing tens of thousands on the campaign trail will have his biggest audience ever Tuesday. And an ABC News/Washington Post poll put his favorability rating at 79 percent, the highest for an incoming president since Ronald Reagan.

The top aides around Obama are expected to begin work almost as soon as Obama stops speaking.

"I think that is very, very true," Stephanopoulos told "GMA " "They have an agenda set for the first 100 hours of the first 100 days where they want to demonstrate ... they'll hit the ground running."

He said to expect actions "in the first couple of days on issues like stem cell research. ... It means appointing new envoys to hot spots like Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan to demonstrate a fresh start in foreign policy as well."

Obama, who has promised change in Washington, is trying to set a bipartisan tone right away. His inauguration celebration includes three dinners this evening to honor people who have reached across the aisle.

Two of those honorees are Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the man Obama defeated to become president.

ABC News' chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos told "Good Morning America" the dinner for McCain is a "measure of the bridges they are trying to build. ... That is remarkable."

The other two dinners will salute former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, a Republican, and Biden.

But first, the celebration. A constellation of stars serenaded the Obamas at the Lincoln Memorial Sunday. The lineup, dubbed "Obamastock," included Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, and Usher. Comedian Jamie Foxx spoofed Obama by imitating the way he speaks.

President Bush Says His Goodbyes

Obama has invoked Lincoln repeatedly in the run-up to his swearing-in. He spent much of the weekend on a train retracing part of the route that Lincoln took to Washington for his own inauguration.

As Obama planned out his first steps, President Bush made some of his farewells. He called world leaders, including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, to say goodbye.

Bush plans to fly home to Texas on Air Force One after Obama's swearing-in and has invited about 10 friends to join him and wife Laura for the trip back home.

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