At the start of his second and final term, President Barack Obama paused to indulge in a moment of reflection.
“I want to take a look one more time,” Obama said, turning back as he entered the Capitol yesterday to savor the sight of hundreds of thousands of people packed into the National Mall to see him take the oath of office and hear his inaugural address. “I’m not going to see this again.”
For the nation’s first black president, it was a moment to soak in the pageantry and historic nature of his inauguration, before returning to the work of a second-term agenda that faces political and fiscal obstacles.
The president has little on his public schedule today, save for a morning prayer service at the National Cathedral. Yet he has much to do in filling out his cabinet and preparing for potential showdowns with congressional Republicans on raising the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling, funding the government, and revising the nation’s gun rules, immigration laws and tax code.
After the battles of his first four years in the White House, Obama tried in his speech yesterday to rekindle the optimism that marked his first run for the White House, challenging Americans to unite and pursue the ideals of equality and opportunity on which the nation was founded.
“My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it -- so long as we seize it together,” Obama said after taking the ceremonial oath of office on a stage built on the west front of the Capitol.
“We, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” he said in a speech that argued for a central role for government in Americans’ lives, a core Democratic Party principle. “We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.”
In the second phase of the traditional inaugural pageantry, the parade, Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama emerged twice from their armored black limousine to stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue, waving to spectators on a chilly afternoon. Outside the White House, he sat in a viewing stand protected by bulletproof glass to watch wave after wave of bands and dancers from around the country.
The first couple celebrated into the night, attending the inaugural ball and the commander-in-chief’s gala, where they danced to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” sang by Grammy-award winner Jennifer Hudson.
Vice President Joe Biden, who also took his ceremonial oath at the Capitol yesterday, made an exuberant appearance along the parade route. Biden -- who has not ruled out a presidential run in 2016 -- left his limousine, danced, waved and gave thumbs-up signs. He broke into a jog as his security detail ran to keep up and greeting spectators with hugs and handshakes before being ushered back into his car.
At the morning ceremony at the Capitol brought out national leaders past and present -- including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, both Democrats, and former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- were on hand to witness the presidential swearing-in.
Grammy Award-winning R & B artist Beyonce sang a rousing rendition of the national anthem as part of a star-studded line-up that also included Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor.
Yet the occasion was muted compared with four years ago. The crowd was smaller than the record 1.8 million who attended in 2009. Obama’s signature hope-and-change theme of that event has been overtaken by the political battles with Republicans in Congress over the last four years.
Obama spoke of a need to “make the hard choices,” on health care, the “long and sometimes difficult” road to tackling climate change, and he made glancing references to upcoming fights over gun control and immigration. National unity, he said, will be crucial to meeting those challenges.
The president said the word “we” more than 60 times in his remarks, often pausing after the word, and repeatedly argued for a more inclusive union with direct calls for equal pay for women, rights for gay couples, and opportunities for immigrants.
Obama the political deadlock in the nation’s capital that might frustrate his second-term efforts must be overcome.
“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” the president said. “We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.”
Obama spoke after being sworn in by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts against a backdrop of red, white and blue bunting and American flags, with his family looking on. The nation’s first black president took his official oath a day earlier during a 30-second ceremony at the White House -- to meet the constitutional requirement that the president be sworn in by noon on Jan. 20.