Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Confident Obama lays out battle plan as he launches second term
Obama's ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol was filled with traditional pomp and pageantry, but it was a scaled-back inauguration compared with the historic start of his presidency in 2009 when he swept into office on a mantle of hope and change as America's first black president.
Despite expectations tempered by lingering economic weakness and a politically divided Washington, Obama delivered a preview of the priorities he intends to pursue - essentially a reaffirmation of core liberal Democratic causes - declaring Americans "are made for this moment" and must "seize it together."
His hair visibly gray after four years in office, Obama called for an end to the partisanship that marked much of his first term in the White House in bitter fights over the economy with Republicans.
"We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate," Obama said from atop the Capitol steps overlooking the National Mall.
Looking out on a sea of flags, Obama addressed a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people that was smaller than the record 1.8 million who assembled on the mall four years ago.
Speaking in more specific terms than is customary in an inaugural address, he promised "hard choices" to reduce the federal deficit without shredding the social safety net and called for a revamping of the tax code and a remaking of government.
The Democrat arrived at his second inauguration on solid footing, with his poll numbers up, Republicans on the defensive and his first-term record boasting accomplishments such as a U.S. healthcare overhaul, financial regulatory reforms, the end of the war in Iraq and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
But fights are looming over budgets, gun control and immigration. Obama, however, has sounded more emboldened because he never again needs to run for election.
SECOND TIME TAKING OATH
When Obama raised his right hand and was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts, it was his second time taking the oath in 24 hours - but this time with tens of millions of people watching on television. As he spoke, the president beamed as chants of "Obama, Obama!" rang out from the crowd.
Obama had a formal swearing-in on Sunday at the White House because of a constitutional requirement that the president take the oath on January 20. Rather than stage the full inauguration on a Sunday, the main public events were put off until Monday.
It was another political milestone for Obama, 51, the Hawaiian-born son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas.
During a triumphant parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, the president and first lady Michelle Obama thrilled cheering onlookers by twice getting out of their armored limousine and walking part of the way on foot, as they had done four years ago. Secret Service agents kept close watch.
In the evening, the couple visited the two formal inaugural balls - down from 10 in 2009 - to celebrate with supporters. At both, Obama and the first lady danced to Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," performed by singer Jennifer Hudson.
In his 20-minute inaugural speech, Obama sought to reassure Americans at the midpoint of his presidency and encourage them to help him take care of unfinished business. "Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action," he said.
The crowds on the National Mall were enthusiastic, but the euphoria of 2009 was gone.
"Four years ago, it was the first black president," said local resident Greg Pearson, 42. "It doesn't have the same energy. It's more subdued. It's not quite the party it was four years ago. Our expectations are pretty low (this time): let's not default on the national debt, keep the government running."
Organizers had given various estimates of the number of people they expected would jam the mall for the ceremony. An inauguration official estimated the crowd at about 1 million