An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people attended President George W. Bush’s Inauguration Saturday, braving 30-degree weather and a chilly downpour from a sky that would before long yield still-present snow.
The 50-minute swearing-in ceremony was called to order by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who served as chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. A Marine Corps soloist then sang an American Medley.
Following the swearing-in of Vice President Dick Cheney, a teary-eyed Bush faced not his former president father, but Bill Clinton and Al Gore, whose administration he had openly criticized during the bitter campaign.
With his hand on the Bible first used by George Washington, Bush swore to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Bush, the 43rd president, was then greeted by thunderous applause from the audience spanning the National Mall.
The first Texas governor and second president to have a father who also occupied the presidency, Bush is not typically a man of many words but is said to be one of great vision. His chance to prove it began at 12:01 pm Saturday when he took the Oath of Office.
President Bush’s brief 15-minute speech was interrupted 14 times by applause and roaring cheers at the mention of tax cuts and defense. The monologue ranged from issues of civic duty to religion and from education to defense. The speech focused on community service and the ability of citizens to take up many duties recently relegated to the government such as education and public safety.
Bush made no mention of the 36-day ballot recount battle in the state of Florida that led to Bush’s Electoral College victory. Rather, he called for a sense of unity and common purpose under his leadership.
The newly sworn-in leader thanked former-President Clinton for his eight years of service and former-Vice President Gore for an election campaign that was “conducted in spirit and ended in grace.” He followed, “Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos. And this commitment, if we keep it, is a way to shared accomplishment.”
“Compassion is the work of a nation, not just the government… I ask you to be citizens. Citizens, not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character,” Bush said.
While Bush reiterated campaign issues such as Medicare, education and social security reform, his overriding message was one of unity. “Sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country. We do not accept this, and will not allow it. And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity.”
The President’s speech was also one of faith. Bush made several references to divinity in his address, noting that he knew his goals were within his reach “because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves, who creates us in his image.”
He also declared, “I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side.”
While Bush maintained an atmosphere of inclusiveness, he also made clear that government would no longer ensure charity that he believes citizens capable of providing.
“I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort; to defend needed reforms against easy attacks; to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor,” Bush said.
In what could have been viewed as a rebuttal to former President Clinton’s Thursday farewell address, he urged Americans to “show courage in a time of blessing, by confronting problems instead of passing them on to future generations.” Campaign finance reform legislation and a Bush education package will be debated on Capitol Hill shortly.
The former Texas governor also addressed America’s role in the international community, saying “America remains engaged in the world by history and by choice, shaping a balance of power that favors freedom. We will defend our allies and our interests. We will show purpose without arrogance. We will meet aggression and bad faith with resolve and strength.”
In the days preceding the Inauguration, 4,000 volunteers - not including law enforcement personnel - worked around the clock to make possible the $30 million inaugural festivities, officials said.
“There has been a lack of panic here. Everything has moved along very efficiently… Decisions that can be made in one day usually are being made in an hour,” noted Natalie Rule, spokesman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. “This event is something that transcends politics. This is the swearing-in of the President of the United States, the leader of the free world. This is the 200th anniversary of the swearing in being held in Washington, D.C. - Thomas Jefferson was the first - so it’s a very special event,” Rule noted.
Student response was optimistic, as well. “We had a great time. It wasn’t really that cold, and we can honestly say we were the first ones there,” said David Stone, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I knew for a while that Bush was going to win the election, and I knew that he was going to have a great Inauguration day. I knew it because he was personal friends with Joe Torre, and the Yankees never disappoint,” said Nick Detwiler, a freshman in the School of International Service. “I think that the new president is going to be a great one, because I think that the All Star team that he has working for him will do him well.”
“It was very awe-inspiring to be there in person, and while I do not agree with all of the new president’s ideas for the future, his call for unity is a good one,” said Emilie Mitescu, a sophomore at Georgetown University.
“I was very impressed with Bush’s rhetoric. He offered a perfect tone for a nation so bitterly divided. Should he follow through with not just the spirit, but the actual promises of his speech he will be a successful president,” offered Ben Curlee, a Democrat and freshman in SIS. “He has a chance to disarm the Democrats and bring legitimacy the election denied him, only by compromise… This was the closest election in history, and a tremendous event in American history; actually being there to see the end of it brings a certain gravity and closure to the affair.”
There were dissenters, however, among the largely Republican assembly. “I was impressed that he pronounced all the 35 words of the oath correctly,” said Maura O’Brien-Ali, a freshman in SIS. “I had ten bucks riding he wouldn’t.” Members of the Washington press corps were also overheard mumbling obscenities among themselves following the President’s speech. This while hecklers mocked outgoing President Clinton as he departed the capitol.
“Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” one man yelled.
Throughout the campaign, Bush tried to show that he would stand his ground on the issues regardless of opposition-and be victorious. His Inauguration proved no different. “I’m here to tell the country that things will get done, that we’re going to rise above expectations, that both Republicans and Democrats will come together to do what’s right for America,” Bush affirmed following the Inauguration.
“Sometimes in life we are called to do great things. But as a saint of our times has said, every day we are called to do small things with great love. The most important tasks of a democracy are done by everyone,” the president said.