« people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy »

Text of President Barack Obama’s inaugural address

Washington, Tuesday 20 january 2009

My fellow citizens,

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the
trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our
ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as
well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath.

The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the
still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst
gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has
carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high
office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals
of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood.

Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and
hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and
irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure
to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have
been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too
costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence
that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics.
Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across
our land _ a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and
that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real.

They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or
in a short span of time. But know this, America _ they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and
false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far
too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time
has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm
our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward
that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to
generation : the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and
all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that
greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never
been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path
for the faint-hearted _ for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek
only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the
risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things _ some celebrated but more
often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the
long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and
worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life.
They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions;
greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most
prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less
productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less
inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last
week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But
our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting
off unpleasant decisions _ that time has surely passed.

Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the
economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act _ not only to
create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build
the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed
our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its
rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s
quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and
the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform
our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new

All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions _ who
suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their
memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has
already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is
joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted
beneath them _ that the stale political arguments that have consumed us
for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether
our government is too big or too small, but whether it works _ whether
it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a
retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to
move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of
us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account _ to spend
wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day _
because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and
their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good
or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched,
but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market
can spin out of control _ and that a nation cannot prosper long when it
favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always
depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the
reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every
willing heart _ not out of charity, but because it is the surest route
to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our
safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can
scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the
rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those
ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for
expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are
watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where
my father was born : know that America is a friend of each nation and
every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity,
and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not
just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring
convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us,
nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our
power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the
justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering
qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy.

Guided by these principles once
more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort _
even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will
begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned
peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work
tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a
warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we
waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by
inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our
spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we
will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a
weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus _
and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn
from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter
swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter
stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old
hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon
dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall
reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new
era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual
interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek
to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West _ know that
your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the
silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history;
but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to
make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved
bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy
relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to
suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources
without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change
with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with
humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol
far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us
today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through
the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our
liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness
to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this
moment _ a moment that will define a generation _ it is precisely this
spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the
faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation

It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break,
the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a
friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is
the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but
also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides
our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them
may be new. But those values upon which our success depends _ hard work
and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty
and patriotism _ these things are old. These things are true. They have
been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is
demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now
is a new era of responsibility _ a recognition, on the part of every
American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world,
duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm
in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so
defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence _ the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed _ why men and women
and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration
across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than
sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can
now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far
we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of
months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the
shores of an icy river.

The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was
stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was
most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to
the people : "Let it be told to the future world … that in the
depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that
the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to
meet (it)."
America, in the face of our common dangers, in this
winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope
and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what
storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we
were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn
back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s
grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and
delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

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