WASHINGTON -- President Obama made a clean break from the Bush years of "false choices" in his inaugural address on Tuesday, deliberately sober as he called for a "new era of responsibility."
Obama is taking office as the nation is at war and the economy is in a nosedive. Completing the transition from campaigning to the awesome task ahead of governing, he tamped down his soaring rhetoric to let the nation know there are tough times ahead.
"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," Obama said.
The speech, transition officials said, started taking shape in November. The main frame of the speech itself was never a matter of great debate. "It had been in his head," the officials said. Drafts had been circulated to presidential speechwriters and historians: Doris Kearns Goodwin, her husband Richard Goodwin, Ted Sorensen and David McCullough. Much of the writing was Obama's.
The speech was heavy on allusion, short on specifics. Plenty of time for details later, a pleased-looking Obama chief speechwriter Jon Favreau told me when I saw him on Capitol Hill just after the speech.
Obama is the first African-American president, but by design, race was only alluded to in the speech. "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 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."
Obama -- sworn in as Barack Hussein Obama -- battled rumors he was a Muslim in the campaign. Speaking to the Muslims of the world Tuesday, he made an explicit appeal, saying, "We seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."
In one of Obama's strongest portions of his speech -- with former President George W. Bush on the platform -- Obama deconstructed the intellectual underpinnings of Bush's two terms, defined by the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks, which created Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and warrantless wiretapping. "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, 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, a charter expanded by the blood of generations."
The bookend, here, to Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention speech.