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Obama Celebrations Give Way to Presidential Realities

Washington celebrated well into the night Tuesday following Barack Obama's inauguration as the 44th president of the United States. But the celebrating quickly gave way to the reality of the problems and challenges facing the new president.

After a night of parties and inaugural balls, it was time for prayers offered for the new president at Washington's National Cathedral.

"Grant to Barack Obama, president of the United States, and to all in authority, your grace and goodwill," said the presiding clergyman.

Mr. Obama even took time at one of the inaugural balls to tell ABC News that his administration's top priority will be economic recovery.

Iraq, Afghanistan top new president's agenda on first day

But the new president is also poised to quickly confront the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to follow through on a campaign promise to eventually close down the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In his Inaugural Address, Mr. Obama promised swift action on the challenges ahead. But mindful of opinion polls that show great expectations for his presidency, Mr. Obama also urged the public to be patient.

"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many," said President Obama. "They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America, they will be met."

Critics say inaugural address did not live up to expectations

Mr. Obama's speech was generally well-received. But there were some who felt the address did not quite live up to its expectations, given the new president's gift for political rhetoric.

William Gavin wrote speeches for former President Richard Nixon.

"We are wearing out our presidents, expecting too much from them in this quest, this lust for eloquence, to be thrilled, to be inspired," Gavin said. "Listen, they have more to do than that."

University of Maryland political scientist Ron Walters says Mr. Obama was right to try and tamp down public expectations for immediate success.

Walters was a guest on VOA's Press Conference USA program.

"When one looks at the unprecedented basket of crises that he is going to inherit when he walks into the Oval Office, he is bound to fail on some of these," said Walters. "So I think what he has been trying to do is manage expectations to give people a realistic sense of what he could possibly achieve."

Experts say Mr. Obama's ability to sway the public with his rhetoric will be an invaluable political asset, especially when it comes to convincing Congress to support his economic stimulus plan.

Allan Lichtman is a presidential historian at American University in Washington.

"Congress is like Wall Street," said Allan Lichtman. "It operates on fear and greed. And if the people are with you, like they were with Franklin Roosevelt, Congress is likely to go along. Roosevelt used the technology of his time, the radio with his Fireside Chats. Obama has proven to be a master of modern technology - the Internet, YouTube, text messages - and he will use it."

Public expectations high about turning around economy

For the first time since Bill Clinton came into office in 1993, Democrats have a new president and have majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives. That has also raised public expectations for quick action to turn around the weakened economy.

But Mr. Clinton ran into difficulties in dealing with Congress, including some problems with some fellow Democrats.

Scot Faulkner worked for President Ronald Reagan and later for House Republican leaders in the 1990's. Faulkner says President Obama will face similar challenges in dealing with congressional leaders from both parties.

"How much are Senator [Harry] Reid and Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi going to be cooperative, but also assert that they are co-equal? How much are the Republicans going to give the new president a wide berth or try to lay the groundwork for their resurgence? asked Faulkner.

Mr. Obama demonstrated considerable political skills in winning not only the presidency, but in defeating Hillary Clinton for Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Obama now faces different set of challenges

Analyst Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says Mr. Obama now faces a different set of challenges as he goes about the task of governing the country.

"He has raised his game to a level we rarely see in public life," said Ornstein. "Is it all going to work out? Can he sustain it at that level? That is the great question for all of us in terms of whether Obama becomes a great president."

Mr. Obama begins his presidency with strong support in public opinion polls. But it remains to be seen how patient the public will be as the new president struggles with a weak economy and attempts to meet the pent up demand for political change after eight years of the Bush administration.