George W. Bush swore the presidential oath for a second term in turbulent times Thursday and issued a sweeping pledge to spread liberty and freedom "to the darkest corners of the world."
"Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill and would be dishonorable to abandon," said the president, who led the nation to war in Iraq in a first term marked by terrorist attacks on the United States.
In a speech delivered before a vast throng of fellow Americans spilling away from the steps of the Capitol, Bush said he would place the nation on the side of the world's oppressed people. "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, 80 and ailing with thyroid cancer, administered the oath of office. The 58-year-old president placed one hand on a family Bible and raised the other as he recited an oath as old as the Republic.
The weather was cold; security extraordinarily tight for the nation's 55th inauguration, first since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Sharpshooters scanned the vast crowd from rooftops and hundreds of police stood shoulder to shoulder along the route of the mid-afternoon inaugural parade.
Newly sworn in, Bush offered an implied rebuttal to critics of his foreign policy and the war in Iraq. "Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty," he said, "though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt."
"We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom," he said in remarks that were shorn of all but the most glancing references to the dominant political issues of the day.
Instead, he packed the first speech of a new term with multiple references to freedom and liberty, references to God — and a reminder of Abraham Lincoln's long-ago admonition. "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it," he quoted the 16th president.
The spread of freedom and liberty were the oldest ideals of America, Bush said. "Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time."
The president awoke before dawn in the White House, then traveled a few blocks with his wife Laura and their twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, to the traditional pre-inauguration prayer service.
A few hours later they journeyed 16 blocks along historic Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, where Bush stood four years earlier to take the office for the first time.
That was before terrorists struck the United States, plunging America into a challenging new era, and prompting the president to order the invasion of Afghanistan and — controversially — Iraq. The inaugural pageantry unfolded half a world away from that conflict — a war and messy aftermath that has claimed the lives of more than 1,300 Americans and was a key fault line in last fall's election.
Bush's victory made him the 16th president in American history to win a second full term — an accomplishment denied his father in 1992. In the process, he led Republicans to larger majorities in the House and Senate, and has outlined a conservative second-term domestic agenda that includes major changes in Social Security and taxes.
But with the war a concern, he was beginning his new term with the lowest approval rating at that point of any recent two-term president — 49 percent in an Associated Press poll this month. Bush is the nation's 43rd president.
The Constitution commanded that Bush take the oath of office at the stroke of noon. Tradition dictated the Capitol as the setting, curiosity and celebration accounted for the throng that traditionally spilled down Capitol Hill toward the historic National Mall and the monuments beyond.
Tradition, too, called for Rehnquist to administer the oath of office. His presence symbolized an aging court — and the likelihood of political warfare with Democrats if the conservative president had second term appointments to make.
Vice President Dick Cheney took the oath for a second term moments before the president. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois swore him in.
The day was the culmination of a hard-won victory for Bush and fellow Republicans, and they were in a mood to celebrate.
Not so, Democrats, who did little to hide their disappointment. "Personally, I don't feel much like celebrating. So I'm going to mark the occasion by pledging to do everything in my power to fight the extremist Republican's destructive agenda," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi wrote in a fund-raising appeal for 2006.
For all the security precautions, officials reported no new information suggesting terror threats to the ceremony or the parade that was following.
There were small protest demonstrations at scattered locations, including one by anti-war protesters.
Bush's speech referred unmistakably to the 9-11 attack and the events that have followed.
"We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion. The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands," he said.
"The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."
He added that freedom "warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world."
The Rev. Dr. Luis Leon greeted the Bushes outside St. John's church when the armored presidential limousine rolled up for the traditional pre-inauguration worship service.
In his short sermon inside, he referred to the transforming events of Sept. 11, 2001. Americans have lived in fear since then, he said. "Help us to overcome our fears," he urged the president.
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