Opinion: America′s New Face | US Elections | DW | 21.01.2009
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US Elections

Opinion: America's New Face

Deutsche Welle's Washington D.C. correspondent Christina Bergmann witnessed the Obama inauguration first-hand and offers her views on the speech that introduced the themes of the new American presidency.

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Millions of Americans, as well as people around the world, had been waiting for the day to arrive. With the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, America has taken on a new face; one that does not look exclusively in a pre-determined direction without regard for changing conditions or losses. A face that looks to the right and the left, recognizing equally both friends and critics along the way. A face that looks enemies in the eye and is willing to approach them, at least part-way. The period of American political unilateralism is over, Obama has promised.

Portrait of DW Washington correspondent Christina Bergmann

The new US president's speech was a clear renunciation of his predecessor George W. Bush's politics. Obama warned his countrymen against surrendering American values in search for security. The fact that the US is the world's mightiest military power should not mean that it can act in any manner it wished. And, the President declared that he will orient himself more according to scientific knowledge than ideological convictions. It is because of these convictions that he was elected. His speech fulfilled his voters' expectations, as it did those of the rest of the world, as well.

At the same time, Barack Obama tried to lower many of the more exaggerated hopes placed in him and his administration. No one would be capable of fulfilling them. The current crisis is too deep and the problems to widespread. However, he did not reject his responsibilities. A well-ordered withdrawal from Iraq, peace in Afghanistan, nuclear disarmament, combating climate change -- all these are promises he made in his first speech as president. He will soon be held accountable for achieving success, or at least some progress, in these areas, but, above all, in solving the economic misery in which his country is mired.

His address made clear, though, that he will not be able to achieve these goals alone. He called on all of his fellow citizens to roll up their sleeves. Obama has, thus, placed himself squarely in the tradition of John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

America's new face is not only turned in a new direction, it also has a different skin color. Only 60 years ago, Obama reminded his listeners, his father would not have been served in most restaurants in America. That this is no longer the case, he said, is thanks to the nation's untiring efforts to achieve the ideals of the Founding Fathers. Obama's election fulfills the dreams that many African-Americans did not believe would ever be achieved.

However, the fight for equal rights is not yet over. Blacks still earn less than whites in America. Black children receive poorer schooling than white pupils. But, the dream of peace and equality for blacks and whites that the champion of civil rights, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed in his march to Washington in the 1968, has taken a large step forward with the election of President Barack Obama.

Christina Bergmann is Deutsche Welle's US correspondent. (rwd)

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