Bush, in first address as president, urges citizenship over spectatorship
Predicted throngs of people kept away from inauguration by inhospitable weather
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- George W. Bush assumed the title President of the United States at noon EST Saturday, and in his first address as the nation's chief executive, urged high spirits and a warm sense of civic duty amid biting gusts of wind and a persistent, bitterly cold drizzle.
Bush: "Sometimes our differences run so deep it seems we share a continent but not a country."
In his brief inaugural address, which clocked in at just under 15 minutes, Bush called for a new sense of unity after years of poison-pen politics and challenged Americans to become more deeply engaged in the nation's civic life. He urged them to extend a helping hand to their neighbors and meet long-overdue reforms to broaden social service programs with discussion, rather than derision.
"I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort; to defend needed reforms against easy attacks; to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor," Bush said minutes after taking the oath of office at noon Saturday.
"I ask you to be citizens -- citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character."
Watch George W. Bush give his inauguration speech
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Bush's long-anticipated inaugural address capped a short ceremony, which kicked off just after 11:30 EST and was only some 50 minutes in duration -- to the great relief of the VIPs in attendance and the hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the grounds of the Capitol Building and the western portions of the National Mall.
Saturday dawned in Washington with overcast skies and temperatures in the low 40s. But the quality of the weather deteriorated steadily as the inauguration ceremony approached, with temperatures dipping into the low 30s minutes before proceedings opened, a peevish cold rain falling, and southerly gusts of wind buffeting the President's stand on the West Front of the Capitol.
All present on the president's stand, including outgoing President Bill Clinton and first lady and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton; outgoing Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper; new Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne; and Bush's parents, former President George Bush and his wife Barbara, smiled contentedly through much of the ceremony, despite the harsh elements.
The crowds, however, were muted by the downturn in the weather, rising from their chairs only to greet Cheney and Bush as they arrived for their swearing in ceremonies, when Bush took the oath from Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and as Bush concluded his address.
The address made no direct reference to the hotly disputed, 36-day ballot recount battle in the state of Florida that led to Bush's belated Electoral College victory. Instead, Bush called for a sense of unity and common purpose under his leadership.
Bush thanked Clinton for his eight years of service, and Gore for an election campaign that was "conducted in spirit and ended in grace." And he promised that his administration would embody "a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character."
"Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment," Bush said. "It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos. And this commitment, if we keep it, is a way to shared accomplishment."
As expected, the new president did not get into details of the agenda he hopes to pursue as president. He repeated campaign pledges to improve schools, overhaul Social Security and Medicare and add build American military strength.
He placed particular emphasis on his pledge to provide tax relief, the very mention of which was greeted with deafening whoops and cheers by the otherwise-restrained crowd.
Bush urged Americans to "show courage in a time of blessing, by confronting problems instead of passing them on to future generations." And despite concerns raised by critics during the campaign, he promised that the U.S. would continue to play a leadership role overseas.
"America remains engaged in the world by history and by choice, shaping a balance of power that favors freedom. We will defend our allies and our interests. We will show purpose without arrogance. We will meet aggression and bad faith with resolve and strength," Bush said.
The call for a new spirit of volunteerism echoed the one issued by his father, former President Bush, during his 1989-93 term, when he urged Americans to create a society characterized by "a thousand points of light." His oldest son promised Saturday to "work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity," but told Americans: "What you do is as important as anything government does."
Bush promised to resolve doubts about "the promise -- even the justice -- of our own country" by working "to build a single nation of justice and opportunity."
"The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools, and hidden prejudice and the circumstances of their birth," he said. "And sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent, but not a country.
"We do not accept this, and will not allow it. Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation."
Elements play pivotal role in power switch
Washington's brutish weather played a significant role in the day's proceedings. The 700,000-person crowd initially predicted by District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department failed to materialize, with many hundreds of thousands of those people certainly scared off by cold wind and rain.
While the seats at the West Front of the Capitol were occupied -- by invitees of the House, Senate and the Republican Party, for the most part -- the areas reserved for the vast crowds of spectators down the National Mall were fairly open, with vast swaths of the Mall in front of the National Air and Space Museum wide open and free of crowds.
From the Capitol, one lone box kite could be seen floating over the center of the formation of spectators at the front of the Mall, while those in the crowd remained still against the cold.
Those seated on the Capitol grounds efforted to stay warm and dry by sitting on their hands, huddling close together or donning plastic, disposable rain parkas. Navy medics, clad in black "pea" coats with Red Cross armbands, could be seen rushing to assist medical "spotters" throughout the crowd, whose sole job was aid those struck ill by the cold.
The Capitol lawn crowd did display its partisan leanings at some points through the late morning, but did so in chilly silence.
When President Clinton and his family were introduced prior to the ceremony, those assembled on the Capitol grounds sat quietly, while huge cheers arose from down on the Mall, roughly a third of a mile from the West Front.
The same reception awaited Gore and his wife.
But the crowd had shown life just moments earlier, when Rehnquist and the justices of the United States Supreme Court were ushered to the front of the platform. Rehnquist was greeted with sustained applause, perhaps as a note of thanks for the court's role in ending Florida recounts.
Those signs of life emerged once more when Bush completed the oath, the U.S. Marine Band struck up "Hail to the Chief" for the first time in Bush's honor, and army set off a 21-gun salute from a row of howitzers aligned on the North lawn of the Capitol.
Now President Bush, introduced for the first time by Kentucky Republican Sen.. Mitch McConnell, approached the speaker's podium to a rousing standing ovation. The next outburst from the front of the crowd -- an short-lived assortment of boos and raspberries -- came when Bush thanked Clinton for his years of service.
The scramble off the Capitol grounds
Clinton took it from the crowd when the ceremony was over, as well. As the chopper regularly designated Marine One lifted off from the East Front of the complex, hearty whoops erupted from the cold spectators who had been quietly making their way toward the open avenues.
Many had assumed that the departing Clinton was on board, but he had left instead for Andrews Air Force Base in a limousine, the weather deemed too risky for a helicopter trip. The very thought of Clinton's leaving sent a burst of warmth through the column of spectators, many of whom only seconds before were quietly discussing where they might get out of the rain and find something to warm to drink.
"Is that Clinton, we hope?" one woman shouted above the crowd, while a man in front of her said toward the departing chopper, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out!"
Those leaving were greeted by onlookers who hadn't been fortunate enough to be allowed onto the Capitol grounds, but were just as enthusiastic to express their support for the new president.
One young boy held up a sign reading, "The Poor House is Over, the White House is Open for Business."
They were quickly met by small groups of protesters moving toward the Capitol from Washington's Union Station, some bearing signs that read, "It is Bad Karma to Steal an Election," "Hail to the Thief," and "Bush was Appointed, Not Elected."
All looked happy to be doing their duty as citizens, but they were clearly citizens made miserable by the weather. There were no verbal exchanges or confrontations.