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Reflecting On Historic Day

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

President Barack Obama and his Inaugural Address to the nation. As we heard, Mr. Obama spoke of this moment as the winter of our hardship. Melissa, I've heard this speech a couple of times now. It certainly is a speech crafted for hard times. The words that General Washington had read to the troops that President Obama cited were the words of Tom Paine and "The Crisis, " the essay that begins, "these are the times that try men's souls." Hard times, and yet, you were out in the crowd earlier today, not a crowd of people gritting their teeth for crisis.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Well, no, but I have to say, you know, throughout the speech, this was not a crowd of jubilation, it was a crowd of people listening very intently to the message. There were moments of tears, although those - the people who I saw crying at times were when Barack Obama actually took the oath of office when he said those words, So help me God. But during the speech, people seemed very committed to listening to what he had to say and when I asked them afterward about the tone, because it struck me the same way, you know, gathering clouds, raging storms, icy currents - this was a pretty sober message for people to hear on a day of celebration. And people seemed to think it was completely appropriate that these are the times we're living in, this is the reality we're living in. And they're willing - the people I talked to and people in this crowd - to give him the time that it takes, and of course, if you look at the opinion polls, people seemed to be saying, Barack Obama, we are going to be patient with you.

SIEGEL: That's right.

BLOCK: We're going to give you the time you need to fix these many problems that we have.

SIEGEL: It shows an electorate that is patient but also that has an incredibly high opinion of the new president and his prospects. Some of the things President Obama said today, we are ready to lead once more. That was America's message to the world. Clearly, a departure - he intends a departure from what the policies have been under President George W. Bush.

BLOCK: Yeah, that was clearly well-received by the crowd and some of the biggest applause lines, I'm talking about challenges - the challenges we face are real. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time, but know this America, they will be met. And partly in the way he delivered that line, he got a big cheer and also when he said, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America. I do have to say, Robert that...

SIEGEL: Almost an old song...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: And start all over again.

BLOCK: Would be - the biggest laugh line came actually after the Inaugural Address. It was during the benediction by Reverend Joseph Lowery, the veteran civil rights leader, 87 years old, and in that benediction he said, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, and as people started hearing this, there was a knowing chuckle through the crowd and he went on, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get a head man, and when white will embrace what is right. And it was a sort of a light moment to end what was a very sober day and celebratory but sober at the same time.

SIEGEL: Another part of the speech that struck me was President Obama dismissing the false choices that he listed between security and our principles, referring to anti-terrorism, the policies.

BLOCK: That you can have both.

SIEGEL: That you can have both between pro-market economics and an unregulated economy, that you can't be prosperous if only the wealthy prosper. It was a speech that emphasized a pragmatic administration to come, I thought, in saying we're not going to judge whether it's right ideologically or philosophically, but does it work.

BLOCK: And too, as we've mentioned elsewhere in the program, a very pointed message implicit in the sitting administration and what was done before and what will follow.

SIEGEL: A review of President Barack Obama's Inaugural Address today in Washington, the Inaugural Address of the 44th president of the United States of America, and of course, the first African-American to hold that position. You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.