It’s been a long four years for President Barack Obama. His first term in the White House was filled with lows and highs -- on one side, the shaky economic recovery and stubbornly high unemployment, and on the other, the passage of sweeping health-care reform and the capture and killing of Usama Bin Laden.
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Obama renewed his oath of office just before noon on Monday in front of an estimated crowd of at least 800,000 on the National Mall in front of the Capitol. The president used two bibles during the swearing in: one that belonged to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and another from President Abraham Lincoln.
In his address Monday, the president said “a decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun,” and outlined his goals for his second term, which included reducing the nation’s deficit and the cost of health care as well as education, immigration and tax reform. His text also addressed, indirectly, the battles he is sure to face with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
“We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” the president said . “The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great."
The president also stressed the need to respond to the threat of climate change. “…The failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
With much of the 2008 Great Recession and its aftermath behind him, the president also called for new responses to new challenges and said the nation’s journey is not over. “Our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity”
After the swearing in, Obama and the first lady joined Biden and his wife at the capital luncheon before taking part in the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. The president and Mrs. Obama got out and waked a portion of the parade starting at Pennsylvania and 9th Street, NW. The couples started the day's festivities at St. John’s Episcopal Church across Lafayette Park from the White House. After the service the president tweeted: “I’m honored and grateful that we have a chance to finish what we started. Our work begins today. Let’s go. -bo.”
Second Term, New Challenges
The tone on Capitol Hill has become even more partisan since 2009, and consumer sentiment has stumbled as Americans worry about the financial future and their long-term economic stability. It’s a simple equation – when consumers are frightened they don’t spend, and consumer spending accounts for 70% of the U.S. economy.
This year’s inauguration and events were much more scaled back from the record-breaking 2009 ceremony that brought in close to two million people and boasted the largest attendance of any event in the history of Washington, D.C. It’s standard for second-term presidents to have smaller festivities and the inaugural committee has downsized its plans, including only two (down from 10 in 2009) official inaugural balls, both taking place in the same location.
“It’s normal for the second inauguration to be less grand and memorable, maybe with the exception of Abraham Lincoln’s in 1865,” says Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “He is more tired, there’s less optimism on what he can accomplish and there’s less excitement.”
While the pomp and circumstance surrounding the event might be toned down, that doesn’t mean there’s less excitement from attendees.
The Moore family traveled from Detroit and California to see the 44th president take the oath and said the day is particularly special to them. Jeane Moore’s husband was a lawyer in Meridian, Miss., in 1965 and helped those arrested during the Civil Rights Movement.
“He told us he didn’t want to sit by and watch history happen, he was going to be part of it and fight for equality. He also slept with a gun under his pillow at night,” said the 79-year-old Moore. “Today’s event is just…wow, I am glad I get to witness history.”
Obama entered the White House with a campaign slogan of hope and change and Congress was controlled by the Democratic Party. Now, the Republican Party holds the majority in the House of Representatives and the Democrats hold the Senate and any sense of bipartisanship is practically non-existent.
“The interesting thing to pay attention to is how the president will frame his overall relationship with Congress and how he seeks to achieve his goals,” says Peter Hanson, political science professor at the University of Denver. “In any inaugural address you call for the country to come together, but the president is somewhat jaded on how things have gone over the last four years, he has been taking a sterner tone with Republicans and less conciliatory in recent weeks.”
That tone was notable again during his inauguration address.
Warfild Moore, III, Jeane’s son, who traveled from Detroit, agreed that the president’s biggest challenge this term will be “getting around the Republicans.”
“We are going to have issues come up that won’t be fixed and it won’t be his fault if the parties can’t learn to work together.”
Zelizer adds that preservation will also be on the president’s agenda. “This term will also be about making sure the health insurance program is up and running, funded properly and working well, so that in four years it will be in good shape when he is gone. He will also be protecting existing programs that he didn’t create from budget cuts—things like Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.”
Monday’s oath will be the fourth time the president says the 35-word pledge. He took the oath on Sunday at a private ceremony in the Blue Room at the White House with First Lady Michelle Obama and their children Malia and Sasha in a less-than-two-minute ceremony. In 2009 he had to retake oath at the White House after the public ceremony because Chief Justice John Roberts botched part of the oath .
This is only the second time in history the presidential day falls on the Martin Luther King Jr., federal holiday. It also happened to President Bill Clinton in 1997. The president will use two bibles during Monday’s swearing in, one that belonged to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and one from Abraham Lincoln.
While the event may be scaled back, the guest list is still filled with celebrities including Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, and James Taylor. New York Senator Charles Schumer will serve as master of ceremonies for the inauguration and as head of the planning committee. Most of the food and drinks at Monday’s events will be derived from his home state.
The 57th inauguration was much warmer than the 2009 ceremony that showcased 28 degree temperatures, tying President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration for the third coldest on record since 1937.
All eyes were on the first lady’s wardrobe choice after she made headlines four years ago with her chic outfit featuring a yellow dress from designer Isabel Toledo and green gloves from mall-staple J.Crew. This year Mrs. Obama wore a navy Thom Browne coat and dress along with a cardigan designed by Reed Krakoff. Her belt and shoes were once again from J.Crew.