A new beginning

At Barack Obama's inauguration, the contrast between the outgoing Bush administration and the incoming one emphasizes a break with the past.

By Alex Koppelman

Published January 20, 2009 8:20PM (EST)

WASHINGTON -- What happened here Tuesday wasn't just the transfer of power from one president to another. From the grounds of the Capitol, not far from the podium where Barack Obama took the oath of office, it seemed more like a whole new generation, a new era.

Witness the exit of the Bush administration: The outgoing president's father, former president George H.W. Bush, walking unsteadily, with the aid of a cane, out to witness the ceremony, he and his wife, Barbara, wearing matching scarves -- purple, the old color of royalty. Vice President Dick Cheney in a wheelchair for his last hours in office. And cheers going up as George W. Bush, president no longer, boarded a helicopter to leave Washington, not for him but for his departure.

Then there was Obama, who brought more than 1 million people out to witness his inauguration. The noise for him, coming up off the National Mall, rang out all the way up to the Capitol, almost reverberating off its walls. 

Obama's speech, uplifting as it was, contained much that was a stinging rebuke to Bush. As Salon's Mike Madden writes, it might well have been uncomfortable for Bush to sit and listen as his successor implicitly spoke of his administration, his ideas and actions, as a dark time that America needs to get past.

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," Obama said. "Our Founding 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...  [W]e are ready to lead once more."

As he left after the ceremony, the Rev. Jesse Jackson told Salon "this was one of those mountaintop moments of American history ... one of those 'we are one' days." Asked what his old friend and colleague, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., would have thought of the inauguration, Jackson said, "He would have been rightfully proud, would have embraced Barack Obama's accomplishment and the civil rights movement's achievement ... He would have encouraged him to end poverty at home and war abroad. That was his consistent message."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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