Obama honors war dead at Arlington

January 18, 2009 1:09:46 PM PST
Barack Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Sunday, somberly pausing to honor America's war heroes in the midst of a mostly festive weekend prelude to taking on the presidency. Just over 50 hours from becoming the 44th president of the United States, Obama walked with Vice President-elect Joe Biden to the tomb site at Arlington National Cemetery and eased a wreath onto a stand, then placed his hand over his heart as a bugler played taps.

Obama will take the oath of office on Tuesday at a time of heavy expectations and high anxiety, and the capital has taken on the look of a fortress city, in places, with streets, bridges and overpasses obstructed in the name of security. But on television, it was a normal Sunday as a parade of political leaders of all stripes appeared on television to speculate, wax poetic and sometimes question the plans of the incoming administration.

The temperature rose above freezing, lending a measure of relief from the frigid weather the Obamas and Bidens braved - along with countless throngs of admirers - during a 137-mile whistle-stop train ride from Philadelphia to Washington on Saturday.

Obama's Sunday started quietly as he took a limousine ride to the nation's hallowed burial grounds for the war dead. Onlookers applauded as he passed by. Obama's wife, Michelle, and Biden's wife, Jill, stood nearbytering economy, soaring joblessness and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One worry seemed to be under control. Obama's soon-to-be White House press secretary pronounced the boss relieved to already have a version of Tuesday's inaugural address down on paper.

Robert Gibbs said the speech would stress responsibility and openness - words that Obama emphasized along the train route in Philadelphia, Wilmington, Del., and Baltimore the day before.

Incoming White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said Obama will call on Americans to embrace a new era of responsible behavior - in government and in business. Emanuel said the speech will harken back to John F. Kennedy's call for personal sacrifice in his 1960 inaugural address and will ask the nation to reject the "culture of anything goes."

Another top Obama adviser, David Axelrod, said the new administration would approach weighty problems with a blend of "optimism and realism."

Axelrod said a priority would be to "put the brakes" on the economic slide and avert a double-digit unemployment rate. The country is in a deep recession, and the jobless rate - at 7.2 percent - is the highest in 16 years.

Emanuel appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," Gibbs was on "Fox News Sunday" and Axelrod was interviewed on ABC's "This Week."