By Kent Klein, Mark Snowiss – On a sunny, cool day in the nation’s capital, flag-waving crowds of hundreds of thousands of people turned out for inauguration ceremonies and celebrations of President Barack Obama’s second term of office.
Jubilation and cheers filled Washington’s most famous boulevard, Pennsylvania Avenue, as Obama and his wife, Michelle, stepped out of their limousine to walk part of the traditional parade route that follows a Capitol inauguration.
Just before noon, the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, led the president in the oath of office on a ceremonial stage outside the Capitol, the seat of the U.S. government. Seated nearby were congressional leaders, family members, celebrities and two former presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden actually had been officially sworn into office on Sunday, since the U.S. Constitution mandates January 20 for the swearing in. So Monday was above all a day for public celebration and uplifting speeches. By coincidence it also was the annual U.S. holiday commemorating the renowned civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, who was assassinated in 1968, shortly after his 45th birthday.
As the president was sworn in, he placed his hand on two Bibles – one that Abraham Lincoln used for his inauguration in 1861 and another that had been carried by King.
Unlike Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, when he and the chief justice stumbled over the words of the presidential oath, everything went smoothly this year.
Equality and Opportunity
The president’s address that followed stressed some of the main themes of his 2012 re-election campaign – equality, and making the cherished national values of “life and liberty” a reality for every American.
The president looked ahead to a future United States where all Americans – women as well as men, no matter what their sexual preferences – are treated equally under the law. He called on fellow citizens to put aside their political differences and work together to solve the country’s problems.
“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said.
Obama called for a renewed commitment to social programs, education, technology and alternative energy sources, saying the United States needs to respond to the threat of climate change.
Implicitly criticizing Republicans and Mitt Romney, his opponent in the presidential race, Obama offered a robust defense of Medicare and Social Security, noting those programs “do not make us a nation of takers.”
The president said America will remain the anchor of strong alliances around the world, and will work to help democracy thrive.
“We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom,” he said.
- 2009 – President Obama: Largest attendance of any event in history of Washington
- 2005 – President Bush: Largest inaugural platform to date
- 1985 – President Reagan: Coldest inauguration day, -14 C at noon
- 1981 – President Reagan: Warmest inauguration day, 13 C at noon
- 1977 – President Carter: First president to walk in the inaugural parade
- 1965 – President Johnson: First inauguration that used a bullet-proofed limousine
- 1961 – President Kennedy: First time a poet, Robert Frost, participated
- 1949 – President Truman: First televised inaugural ceremony
Three popular American singers – James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce – and a choir sang patriotic songs during the ceremony, and a reading by a Cuban-American poet celebrated the day.
The assembled crowd filled most of the National Mall, but still was only a fraction of the estimated 1.8 million people who jammed into that space four years ago for the inauguration of the first African-American president.
The Obama and Biden families began the day by attending a service at a Christian church near the White House. A pastor offered a blessing and counseled the president to use his power for the good of the country.
From the church Obama sent a message on Twitter: “I am honored and grateful that we have a chance to finish what we started. Our work begins today. Let us go.”
Obama returned to the White House for a brief coffee reception for top congressional leaders, including the Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, and Senator Mitch McConnell, leader of the Republican minority in the Senate.