HOW WE SEE IT: Mr. President: Obama writes a new chapter in our history

Barack H. Obama takes the oath of office today as the 44th president of the United States of America with the weight of history — and of a collapsing economy — on his shoulders.

As the first black president, Obama, the son of a black father from the East African nation of Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, will be judged by a standard that has not been applied to his predecessors. His success will be more than the nation’s success. It will reflect on blacks not only in this country but around the globe. Likewise, any failures.

Democrat Obama’s taking the oath of office today has assured him a prominent place in the annals of this great nation. If only his elevation to the most powerful position in the world could have been accompanied by a national feeling of well-being — as it was when Republican George W. Bush began his eight-year tenure in 2001. Then, outgoing President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, left his successor with an economy that was performing so well, it provided the federal government with record budget surpluses and a shrinking national debt.

The inheritance from Clinton gave Bush the luxury of sprinkling his inaugural speech with such esoteric ideas as building a kinder, gentler nation and changing the political culture in Washington.

Not so Obama, who takes office today with a national economy that offers stark comparisons to the Great Depression, a lack of confidence on the part of many Americans brought on by record job losses and skyrocketing health care costs, and a nation that has hundreds of thousands of troops in two hot spots, Iraq and Afghanistan.

How he speaks to these and other challenges when he addresses America and the world at noon today will go a long way either toward making us believe that a new day has dawned, or sending us into a deeper funk.

Stock markets

The reaction of the stock markets will provide the first inkling of whether Obama was able to calm the roiling economic and emotional seas.

There is no denying the fact that new president has the confidence and the inner strength to take on the many challenges in his path.

His surprise victory, first in the Democratic primary against a well-known, well-financed political powerhouse, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, and then in the general election against a genuine American hero, U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, are a testament to his instincts as a politician and his ability to connect with the masses.

Those qualities will stand him in good stead as he works to change the course of the ship of state.

The discipline displayed by his campaign during the two-year-long journey to the White House, and by his transition team as he prepared to take the reins of power from Bush, will be needed when he is confronted by conflicting interests and entrenched bureaucracies that are the nature of government.

President Obama will not enjoy the luxury of a learning curve that permits mistakes. Every action he takes and every statement he makes will have widespread ramifications. Such is the nature of being the most powerful leader in the world during a time of great global turmoil.

Barack Obama, the first black president in the history of the United States of America, deserves our support and our prayers. His success will be our success.

A major player in the new administration’s goal of changing the direction of the country will be Vice President Joe Biden, a veteran U.S. senator and an internationally acknowledged foreign policy expert.

With Obama and Biden working side-by-side, there is reason to be optimistic.

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