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An extraordinary event in extraordinary times

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By Lee Helscel

With an estimated 1 million people surrounding the National Mall on Jan. 20, it may have been the largest crowd to ever attend a presidential inauguration. Some accounts say there were people as far as the eye could see. And PBS reported that more than 2 million people came to Washington, D.C. to attend some part of the historic event.

Was it the result of the 44th president’s charisma and his 80 percent approval rating or a reflection of a nation’s hope for deliverance from the economic crisis every American is feeling? In recent months, the battlefield quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan have retreated to the inside pages as news of investment scams, a dropping Dow, unemployment and impending industrial collapses have charged to the front.

The consensus is that President Barack Hussein Obama and his administration face challenges unsurpassed since FDR took office during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Something that isn’t lost on Obama, who is a student of history.

During the months before taking office he as made mention of past presidents, their crossroads in history and the directions taken which led the nation to higher plains. The ideas he has brought forth so far are rooted in ideas that have steered the ship of state out of troubled waters, not a radical dismantling of democracy.

Obama used the Bible Abraham Lincoln placed his hand on to take the same oath of office. It was a symbolic gesture of completion and unity. And the new president’s relatively short inaugural speech was also filled with history and symbolism.

He talked of our ancestors and their sacrifices, and of raging national storms when others had taken office. The weak economy, greed, irresponsibility and a collective failure that caused the situation were mentioned – along with costly heath care and failed schools.

His words were positive wile condemning false promises and worn-out political dogmas by encouraging to choose a better history and living up to the ideas of equality and a chance for all to pursue happiness. Obama painted a picture of dusting ourselves off and remaking America through inventiveness,  and creating new jobs for a new foundation.

Building new bridges, roads, electric grids and things that feed commerce are also imagined – along with using science to develop ways to harness sun, wind, and soil to fuel factories and cars. He wants better schools and colleges to meet those challenges and bring the country into a new age. He doesn’t argue size of government but says it needs to work.

Mr. Obama didn’t wave the white flag of surrender when it came to national defense. He recalled the Founding Fathers and the rule of law they handed down which has been defended by each generation. He spoke of prudent use of military force and greater cooperation between nations but warned that our spirit would not be broken by terror – that we will outlast and defeat them.

We will see if the new commander in chief fulfills a campaign promise to begin withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Will some of them be re-deployed to Afghanistan, where Taliban and other insurgent forces have stepped up hostilities?

Speaking to the diversity of the nation as a uniting factor he addressed Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and non-believers. In his moment of personal victory he didn’t let us forget that some of the old hatreds and tribal lines are still with us and we must believe they will dissolve as the world grows smaller and we discover our common interests.

In a nearly flawless speech, President Obama painted other images of our history, unity, sacrifice and overcoming insurmountable odds. Words crafted to inspire confidence in a nation that is in another winter of hardship.

It will take a lot of optimism and at least the $850 million economic recovery bill he wants, to pull working men and women out of the dust created by the crashes on Wall Street. That’s on top of the $350 billion remaining in the financial bailout.

National unemployment is 7.2 percent and at least 11 million people are out of work. How fast the Obama administration can create 3 million jobs and encourage banks to lend money to Main Street is history that has yet to be made.

The new president is an eloquent statesman – some would say a smooth talker. He will have to be a smooth operator to create and implement policies that get the economy off the rocks and extinguish the fires of hated for America that threaten its security.

Barack Obama has already written one page in history. Does he have a dream of peace and prosperity which will fill the chapters that follow? His grassroots supporters think so – does Congress share that vision?