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Obama's era of responsible citizens

Americans can answer Obama's call to duty by changing their actions and attitudes.

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President Obama's inaugural call for Americans to participate in a "new era of responsibility" rings true. He's right that government alone cannot remake the country. Individuals must also take steps that, collectively, lead to a national change in thinking and behavior. But what steps?

The new president didn't say in any great detail. Rather, he pointed out that every American must recognize that "we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world."

Perhaps it's best he left the specifics to each person to determine, for no two lives are alike. At the same time, the nation's key challenges can be taken up at the individual level, for isn't the country made up of individuals?

Washington and Wall Street fell for the lure of excess, but so did households. The economy is forcing them to get their budgets in line, but confusion may arise as people – so used to a "consumer" identity – wonder, "Wait, shouldn't I be spending to help the economy?"

In a hole this deep, government has to fill in the first stimulus. Individuals should reduce their credit-card debt, save, and live within their means so that they are in a stronger position down the road.

They can redefine "spending" as service to family, friends, neighbors, and strangers as unemployment spreads and basic needs grow.

Mr. Obama also spoke of transforming schools and colleges, but parents must apply themselves harder to their children's education. They must engage with schools, make sure their kids attend class and that homework gets done. Among other duties, it is "a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate," Obama said from the Capitol.

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