After months of preparation and a super-sized inauguration spectacle, replete with days of rock and pop star performances and swirling gaggles of Hollywood’s glitterati, Barack Hussein Obama now resides in the White House as the 44th president of the United States.
According to official estimates, about 1.8 million people braved bitterly cold temperatures to attend the inauguration, although the vast majority was far too distant to actually see the event on anything other than the huge TV monitors sprinkled across the National Mall.
This Oval Office transition period has been like no other in US history. Battered by staggering job losses and relentlessly bad economic news streaming from their television sets, radios, computers and newspapers, Americans are being warned that things will only get worse in the near term, and that there are no quick fixes.
Into this deeply unsettled terrain rides Barack Obama, a man whose story-book rise from a broken home to the most prestigious domicile on the planet has inspired millions across the globe.
Delivering what was in many ways a more low-key address than his electrifying acceptance speech at the Democratic national convention last August, Obama nonetheless hit all the right notes for the adoring crowd hungry for his promise of “change”.
With past presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush Sr, Bill Clinton and George W Bush seated behind him, Obama said that, amidst the current economic crisis, Washington’s legendary partisan rancor must now fade away.
“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,” said Obama.
“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” he added.
Although he alluded to George Bush’s controversial ‘war on terror’ tactics — by saying “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” — Obama took the high road and avoided any direct criticisms of his predecessor.
Some people in the crowd weren’t so generous.
When Bush’s name was announced as he arrived, many broke into chants of “na na na na, goodbye bye.”
Former vice president Dick Cheney fared no better.
Long lambasted by the left and TV comedians alike for his disdain of constitutional restraints on executive power, Cheney was the Bush administration’s chief proponent of using “deep interrogation” techniques on terrorist suspects.
He attended yesterday’s inauguration in a wheelchair because he had hurt his back while loading moving boxes on Monday.
Did Cheney’s frailty win him any sympathy? Not a chance.
When his image flashed on the huge TV screens, widespread boos and catcalls erupted throughout the crowd.
But, at the end of the day, however unpopular they are, Bush and Cheney leave with the last laughs of sorts.
Before inflation adjustments, the 69-year-old Cheney will be pulling down about $135,000 annually in US federal pension money until he dies.
The far younger and more fit George Bush (53) will rake in a yearly federal pension of over $200,000 in taxpayer money for the rest of his days.
In Video: inauguration highlights
'We have duties to ourselves'
'We will defeat you'
'Hope over fear'
Obama addresses the world
Obama takes historic oath
Party on: Obama's ancestral home
Above: Celebrations in the Kenyan village of Kogelo - birthplace of Barack Obama's father
Barack Obama: the Next President