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Obama Claims Presidency, Cites Challenges Ahead

Analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks and historians offer their views on President Barack Obama's landmark inauguration and his promise for a new era of responsibility.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And that brings us to Shields and Brooks, our NewsHour analyzers in chief, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    David, "expectations" has been the keyword going into this. Were yours met today?

    DAVID BROOKS, columnist, New York Times: I think so, but I think primarily by the crowd. And I was thinking this even before Gwen speaks, but I'm especially thinking it now — especially that first woman in the mall who Gwen interviewed.

    The crowd had this joyous nature about it, and Obama spoke, but they all had their views and their say, and I think we'll remember the images of the crowd, but we'll also remember the voices of the crowd. And some of us who were around Washington the last couple days will remember the mood of incredible good cheer and joyousness of the crowd.

    And that's something that's incredibly rare. Political speeches, even inaugural speeches, happen every four years.

    As for the speech, I thought it was a good speech, not a great speech, but a good speech. What struck me is the celebratory nature of the crowd and, in some way, the optimistic nature of Obama's speech, but also within that a very wintry spine, where he said, "We've had a collective failure to take hard decisions. We must put away childish things." And then at the end, "We have to act more responsibly."

    And that's really sort of a moral indictment of the country, not even a political indictment, but a moral indictment, and that preparation for tough times, time to get tough and get serious, is a wintry nature I think that the way Obama sees the country.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Your expectations tonight, Mark, your expectations reading tonight?

    MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: Jim, in 1968, I was privileged to be in Ebenezer Baptist Church for Martin Luther King's funeral. And the slogan that year was, "The whole world is watching." That was the protest of those against the injustice in the country, against the war in the country.

    Literally today, 40 years later, standing on the shoulders of Martin Luther King is Barack Obama and the nation, and the whole world is watching.

    I have never seen an inaugural generate this kind of excitement, this kind of emotion, let alone this kind of a crowd. And I think we talk about transformational presidencies. This has been a transformational event, in many respects.

    And I was particularly struck, as David was, the piece, Eugenia Pete, that Gwen did on the mall and realized, as I watched Barack Obama sign those nominations just before the luncheon in the piece that Ray did, that it was really a pageant of America's change.

    If you looked at that room, there was the first Senate majority leader who's a Mormon. There was the first woman speaker of the House who's an Italian-American. There was the first vice president of the United States who's a Catholic. There's the first woman chair of an inaugural…

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Inauguration, yes, Dianne Feinstein.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    … inauguration event who's the first woman senator from California, who was the first woman mayor of San Francisco, who's Jewish. I mean, and you say, "Wow." I mean, this is really remarkable. Yes, the first African-American president, but, I mean, it is a remarkable series of events.

    I agree with David. It was not a great speech. Speeches have brought Barack Obama to where he is: the speech of 2004; certainly, the Reverend Wright speech; memorable speeches along the way, his announcement speech; the speech accepting the nomination.

    This was not his greatest speech. But the speeches have brought him to where he is. And now it's time for action and decisions, but it's given him that chance to become a great president.

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