President Barack Obama, the former community organizer, urged Americans in his inaugural speech to get to work solving the country’s problems and to act in a “spirit of service.”
“Starting today,” he told a massive crowd attending his swearing-in ceremony, “we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”
Mr. Obama takes office as many charities are reeling from the economic crisis — and hoping that the new president will bolster the government’s social safety net to help them meet rising demand for help.
Indeed, Mr. Obama suggested that he rejected the mostly Republican philosophy that big government is automatically bad. “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works,” he said. “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.”
Many nonprofit officials have high hopes for Mr. Obama’s presidency, considering him “one of them” because of his past work helping unemployed people and registering voters for nonprofit groups in Chicago early in his career. He pledged on the campaign trail to expand the country’s national-service programs and provide money to help innovative charities expand their programs.
‘Define a Generation’
The president did not refer specifically to either nonprofit groups or national service in his address, but he praised the concept of “service” while discussing America’s military heroes.
“We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service, a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves,” he said. “And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.”
President Obama uttered those words one day after Americans responded to his call to participate in the national day of service that traditionally honors Martin Luther King Jr. Day by participating in a record number of volunteer projects.
The president was somber in his address, saying the economic crisis was produced by “greed and irresponsibility” and “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”
He called on Americans to take responsibility for the nation’s future.
“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,” he said.
Mr. Obama will now get to work getting Congress to pass a proposed economic-stimulus package, which includes billions of dollars in spending that would help some nonprofit groups weather the recession.
Many nonprofit leaders are hoping that he will also give priority to passing the Serve America Act, a Senate bill that was introduced in the last Congress to greatly expand the country’s national-service programs.
Sens. Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, this month reintroduced the bill in the new Congress.