American Hellenic Institute


Facebook Image
Op-Ed: An Especially Historic Inauguration
January 30, 2009—No. 6 (202) 785-8430

Op-Ed: An Especially Historic Inauguration

WASHINGTON, DC—The following Op-Ed by Gene Rossides appeared in the National Herald, 1-24-09 and the Greek News 1-26-09.

An Especially Historic Inauguration

By Gene Rossides

January 12, 2009

In a sense all inaugurations of a president of the United States are historic simply because a president-elect of the U.S. is being sworn into office.

The inauguration on January 20, 2009 of president-elect Barack Obama is an especially historic inauguration because Barack Obama is an African American. It has enormous symbolic meaning in the U.S. where whites are still a majority, and throughout the world where whites are a minority.

Many, if not most Black Americans did not believe a Black American would ever be elected president of the U.S. Some, including the Rev. Martin Luther King, did believe it would happen but not as soon as it did. Keep in mind that blacks represent about 14 percent of Americans.

We have every reason to hope and believe that Barack Obama’s inauguration will improve black-white relations although that is not a given. President Obama will, I’m sure, make this as a high priority.

Peaceful transfer of power

Inauguration Day in the U.S. is also witness to the peaceful transfer of power, an extraordinarily important feature of our political system and part of the genius of our founding fathers. A minority of the world’s nations have a peaceful transfer of power and none have it in the format and with the traditions that we have.

The inauguration is at the Capitol not the White House. The leadership of the Congress on both sides of the aisle are involved. The new president and first lady escort the outgoing president and first lady to their transportation at the East area of the Capitol. Then there is the special luncheon for the new president at the Capitol hosted by the Congressional leadership. All is part of the peaceful transfer of power. Our process of transition is unique.

President Barack Obama’s speech

President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech was a moving speech of substance and challenges and pragmatism. He listed the serious problems and challenges we face and stated:

“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.”

* * * *

“that noble idea”

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.

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….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.

Pragmatism runs throughout the speech. He stated, for instance, “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.”

“our common defense…the rule of law and the rights of man”

Regarding national security the president stated:

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 the 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.

* * * *

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.

“New era of responsibility”

The president stressed that government can do only so much and that it is up to “the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.” He stated:

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.

Carry forth freedom

President Obama concluded his speech by referring to the fact that George Washington at Valley Forge in the cold winter months of 1776 with the British enemy advancing, ordered the following words of Thomas Paine to 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.”

For Greek Americans

The message for Greek Americans is to become active in the community and on the political scene in the “new-era of responsibility” and as part of all Americans to recognize “that we have duties to ourselves, our nations, and the world, duties that we…seize gladly.”


For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at For general information regarding the activities of AHI, please view our Web site at