The succession of office from one leader to another is the moment of truth for any political system. In a democracy, power is handed over peacefully and with dignity, proof that government of and by the people continues without interruption even as their leaders come and go. Today in Washington, with the inauguration of Barack Obama as America’s 44th president, the United States continues that ideal.
A strong sense of tradition also figures in the ceremony. As has every president since George Washington was inaugurated in 1789, and with his predecessor President George Bush looking on, Mr. Obama takes an oath to protect and defend the nation and its Constitution. After that, he gives an inaugural speech outlining his hopes and plans for his 4-year term.
Previous presidents have used the occasion to inspire and rally their countrymen. Amid the Great Depression of the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt counseled that the nation had nothing to fear but fear itself. John F. Kennedy, calling a new generation to public service, urged them not to ask what the country could do for them, but ask rather what they could do for their country. With a new economic crisis gripping the U.S., many look to Mr. Obama for similar inspiration.
Citizens from across America, young and old, have converged on Washington to attend the festivities. This year, record crowds of upwards of 3 million people are expected for the historic swearing-in of the nation’s first African-American president. Even those who don’t agree with the new president’s policies have the opportunity to be represented, with space set aside along the parade for up to 250 people who want to voice a protest.
Overall, though, Inauguration Day is a time when Americans come together and look forward. It is and ever will be a celebration of the democratic process and the person they have picked to lead them for the next 4 years.