News lessons

Obama inauguration

Barack Hussein Obama today became 44th president of the United States of America in front of quite possibly the largest crowd of people ever in one place for a single political moment.

As many as two million people in Washington’s National Mall heard their new president give a 20-minute speech in which he acknowledged that the country was in the midst of crisis – with wars, a poor economy and a weak national confidence.

He promised the crowd that the problems would be met, but warned it would take time and a new type of politics, and that America would have to understand that “power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please”.

President Obama took the oath just after midday under a crisp and cloudless blue sky in front of the glistening cream dome of the Capitol, which was partly built by slaves.

Obama inauguration: Let the remaking of America begin today

The day, cold enough to freeze breath, had begun with millions of individual journeys by coach, train and on foot as the crowds began arriving before dawn. This was to be the end of the last eight years of Republican rule and of the problems in the US which, at any previous time in history, would have made the election of an African American president unthinkable.

For days people had been celebrating in parties all over town. The cheer as Obama swore his oath on Lincoln’s Bible rippled and roared all the way from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol, nearly two miles away.

But when Obama spoke it was immediately clear that the tone of this inauguration was grave, addressed as much to the hundreds of millions watching and listening around the world as to the shimmering sea of upturned faces in front of him.

“That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood,” he said. “Our nation is at war, our economy is badly weakened … homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our healthcare is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”

There was criticism of George W. Bush’s policies in his comments on science and the environment. He vowed to “restore science to its rightful place” and made several references to climate change, acknowledging the threat to our planet and saying America would in future use “the sun and the winds and the soil” for energy.

On international affairs

On international affairs, he talked about the Muslim world, offering “a new way forward based on mutual interest and mutual respect. America would leave Iraq “to its people” and make “hard-earned peace” in Afghanistan.

Obama’s serious tone and his acknowledgement of the economic hurricane blowing through America echoed Roosevelt’s speech at the time of the last serious global depression, in which a new president vowed “to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly”.

The endless crowd might have wanted to hear something more uplifting, but, for many, the day was a moment of real change after which nothing could be the same again.

As Obama headed back into the Capitol building at the end of the ceremony, clouds began rolling over what had until then been a pure blue sky. But there was one final cheer as the helicopter carrying George W. Bush rose over the gleaming dome of government and took the former president off to Texas – and out of public life forever.

© Guardian News & Media 2009
First published in The Guardian, 20/02/09

Skim-read the article and decide whether the sentences are true (T) or false (F).

1. There have been more than 50 presidents in the history of the United States.
2. Obama wants the American people to change the way they live.
3. The weather in Washington on 20 January 2009 was cold, sunny and dry.
4. Slaves helped to build the US Capitol building in Washington.
5. Obama talked about war, torture, jobs, housing and guns.
6. Obama said that the Americans must do something about global warming.
7. The speech was positive and uplifting.
8. After the speech, former President George W. Bush flew to Texas.

Complete the gaps using these key words from the text. The paragraph numbers will help you.

confidence acknowledge inauguration vowed entitle mutual soil uplifting oath frankly
depression shed shuttered protect grave midst echoed adversaries policies threat
  1. start, beginning, first time __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (title)
  2. accept, agree or admit __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 2)
  3. middle, centre, deep in __ __ __ __ __ (para 2)
  4. belief or faith in yourself __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 2)
  5. take care of, look after, keep from harm __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 3)
  6. allow, give authority to __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 3)
  7. a formal promise __ __ __ __ (para 4)
  8. serious, solemn, and worried __ __ __ __ __ (para 7)
  9. thrown off, lost __ __ __ __ (para 8)
  10. closed, gone out of business, or ceased trading __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 8)
  11. enemies or opponents __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 8)
  12. programmes, plans, strategies, tactics __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 9)
  13. officially and formally promised __ __ __ __ __ (para 9)
  14. danger, risk __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 9)
  15. earth, ground __ __ __ __ (para 9)
  16. shared, common __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 10)
  17. repeated, said again, sounded like __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 11)
  18. economic decline, financially bad times __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 11)
  19. honestly, openly, straightforwardly __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 11)
  20. inspiring, inspirational, makes you feel happy __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ (para 12)

The author uses some very nice language in the article. Match the phrases from the article with their meanings in simpler English.

… a single political moment. the weather got worse
… the glistening cream dome of the Capitol, … one short but important event in history and politics
… cold enough to freeze breath, … extremely cold
The cheer rippled and roared all the way from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol, … the (sunny) roof of the government building
… the shimmering sea of upturned faces … the financial crisis in the USA
… the economic hurricane blowing through America … the sound was carried all the way down from the front to the back of the crowd
… clouds began rolling over what had until then been a pure blue sky. the people looking up at him (in the sun)