WASHINGTON -- Looking westward into the sun and speaking to more than 1 million people on the Mall in front of him and to millions more around the world, President Barack Obama delivered a tough inaugural speech that must have made members of the outgoing Bush administration squirm in their chairs.
After thanking President George W. Bush for his service to the nation and for helping during the presidential transition, Obama veered sharply, offering no attempt at sugar-coating, no deeper genuflection toward the Bushes, who left the Capitol by helicopter soon after Obama's blunt speech and headed for Texas.
Instead, Obama hit his theme early and often in his 18-minute address: The presidential inaugural oath is sometimes taken "amidst gathering clouds and raging storms." Now is one of those times, he said.
Obama declared "we are in the midst of crisis" and recounted wars, a badly weakened economy that he blamed on greed on the part of some and "also on our collective failure to make hard choices."
Homes have been lost, jobs shed, business shuttered, he recounted. Health care is too costly, schools fail too many students and we waste our energy.
There was no affable reference to Bush's eight years in office or mention of the wonders of the Bush legacy, nothing warm and fuzzy. It was a putdown, a repudiation of the Bush years.
Obama was just warming up.
Aside from these "indicators of crisis," the nation is on an emotional downer. Our national confidence has been sapped, Obama said, and there is a nagging fear "that America's decline is inevitable and that the next generation must lower its sights."
OK, having painted the gathering gloom, the new president told what was needed to get out of it. Citing past sacrifices by Americans, Obama declared: "This is the journey we continue today."
While the challenges facing us are serious and many and will not be met easily or quickly, Obama defiantly proclaimed: "But know this, America -- they will be met."
The new president continued his indirect criticism of the old regime.
We have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord, Obama said. The time has come to proclaim an end to petty grievances and false promises, recriminations and worn-out dogmas that have long strangled our politics.
The time has come, he continued, to "set aside childish things." No particulars were mentioned and there was no hint of emotion from Bush family members in attendance, including both President Bushes and their wives.
But it was difficult to recall an inaugural speech that so harshly described the nation's condition that now became the responsibility of the incoming president. It was reminiscent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1933 inaugural when he denounced "fear itself, nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." Incumbent President Herbert Hoover sat quietly nearby.
So much for the old. And now the new.
The U.S. remains the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth, with productive workers and inventive minds. "But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed," Obama said. "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America."
The state of the economy calls for bold action, to create new jobs and build for growth.
To those who question the scale of our ambitions, Obama challenged, they should recall "what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage."
Cynics fail to understand that the ground has shifted beneath them -- "that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply," he declared.
Obama offered to renew U.S. leadership to all nations that seek peace. Earlier generations understood that "our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please."
Instead, "our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."
The U.S. will leave Iraq to its people, forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan, lessen the nuclear threat and fight global warming.
"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 broke; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."
One watching Obama could only conclude that the page has been turned, dramatically and completely.