Barack Obama approached his inauguration as the 44th U.S. president with a mix of solemnity and celebration on Sunday, laying a wreath at a military grave and then swaying along at a concert featuring Bruce Springsteen and Beyonce, according to Reuters.
The events reflected popular excitement about his choice as the first black U.S. president tempered by anxiety about the fact that United States is fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and faces its worst economic crisis since the Depression.
Walking side by side, Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden placed a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery`s Tomb of the Unknowns before braving a cold winter`s day to take in a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the neoclassical temple that honors the 16th U.S. president.
The president-elect, an Illinois Democrat, often echoes Republican Abraham Lincoln, who led the country during the Civil War, ended slavery in the United States and who, Obama said on Sunday, "in so many ways made this day possible."
Accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and their daughters Malia and Sasha, Obama nodded, clapped and rocked along to the music at the concert, which included Stevie Wonder singing "Higher Ground" and U2 paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr with "Pride (In the Name of Love)."
Obama sang along as folk singer Pete Seeger led the crowd in Woody Guthrie`s patriotic anthem "This Land is Your Land."
Spliced between the songs, actors Denzel Washington, Laura Linney and Tom Hanks gave speeches that evoked past crises in U.S. history, including the Civil War, the Depression and the Cold War.
As Obama prepared to be sworn in on Tuesday he stressed the depth of the challenges that he faces, including the recession and the unfinished wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but said he was optimistic about the country`s ability to face them.
`ENORMITY OF THE TASK`
"There is no doubt that our road will be long, that our climb will be steep. But never forget that the true character of our nation is revealed not during times of comfort and ease, but by the right we do when the moment is hard," he said.
"Despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead, I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure, that it will prevail, that the dream of our founders will live on."
The U.S. unemployment rate rose to 7.2 percent in December, its highest level in nearly 16 years, and 2.6 million people in the United States have lost their jobs in the last year, the largest employment slump since 1945.
Obama has vowed to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to jolt the country out of a deepening recession. A New York Times/CBS News poll published on Saturday showed Americans were confident he could turn the economy around and were prepared to give him years to deal with the crush of problems he faces.
Obama has said he wants to bring U.S. combat forces out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office, but his ability to do so hinges on violence in the country continuing to decline and on the capabilities of Iraqi security forces.
He has also has committed to sending more U.S. forces to Afghanistan to tackle insurgent violence that has risen in recent years.
Becky Kusar, 29, a Democrat who voted for Obama and was visiting Washington with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, expressed both enthusiasm about Obama`s election as well as anxiety about the economy and the war in Iraq.
"It`s been scary," she said of the economic downturn as she stood in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. "I am really hoping that he has the actions to back up what he is saying."
Her husband, Carl, a Republican who did not vote for Obama was grudgingly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. "You`ve got to give everybody a chance, is what I say."