Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States on Jan. 20, 2009. The son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, he is the first African-American to ascend to the highest office in the land.
He is also the first new president since terrorists attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the first to use the Internet to decisive political advantage, the first to insist on handling a personal smartphone while in the White House. So striking was the novelty of his rise that he embraced it himself : as a candidate he called himself “a skinny kid with a funny name” and the theme for his campaign was “change.”
It was a theme with deep resonance for a country enmeshed in what was widely believed to be the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Abroad, many challenges loomed: the war in Iraq, the worsening conflict in Afghanistan, the repercussions from Israel’s broad assault on Gaza, the threat of terrorism and the increasing signs that the economic woes that began on Wall Street had spread across the global economy. Mr. Obama arrived at the White House with a resume that appeared short by presidential standards : eight years in the Illinois State Senate, four years as a senator in Washington.
He had managed to wrest the Democratic nomination from a field of far more experienced competitors, most notably Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he outlasted in what became an epic primary battle. And he defeated Senator John McCain, the Republican of Arizona, by an electoral margin of 365 to 173, while outpolling him by more than eight million votes. During the campaign, Mr. Obama laid out a set of large promises that were solidly within the traditional agenda of the Democratic Party, with plans to offer health insurance to all and reduce carbon emissions at the top of the list.
At the same time, he proposed moving toward what was sometimes called a post-partisan landscape, appealing to voters of all stripes to come together. As he took office, voters seemed cautiously optimistic, with high hopes for the Obama presidency mixed with a sense that complicated problems would take years to resolve. Republicans attributed Mr. Obama’s victory primarily to a dismal trifecta: the cratering economy, an incumbent president, George W. Bush, with near-record disapproval ratings and a series of stumbles by Mr. McCain’s campaign.
But even his opponents acknowledged that Mr. Obama had run a remarkable campaign, highly disciplined in its message, relentlessly focused on building a field organization that was second to none and unprecedentedly successful in fundraising, particularly over the Internet. In the weeks after the election, the Obama team tried to bring the same level of focus to the transition, moving rapidly to name a large roster of nominees to posts large and small. He dipped deeply into the pool of Clinton-era officials, beginning with his former rival, naming Mrs. Clinton to be his secretary of state.
While he resisted calls to involve himself publicly in many of the pressing issues of the moment, declaring repeatedly that “we only have one president at a time,” Mr. Obama began negotiations with congressional leaders on a massive economic stimulus package and hit the road for campaign-style events to build support for the $825 billion bill introduced by the House on Jan. 15, 2009.