Obama urges Americans to 'seize the moment' and unite to tackle challenges
President Barack Obama surprised observers with the unprecedently liberal and progressive tone of his second inaugural address yesterday, calling for “our gay brothers and sisters” to be given the right to marry, and making his strongest pitch in years for action to slow climate change.
The president also signalled that he will be more combative in dealing with the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” he said.
Despite the more confrontational tone, the address was positive about prospects for his second term. “A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun,” Mr Obama said. “America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands . . . We are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.”
The ceremony was steeped in the legacies of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King jnr; the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement – Mr Obama took the oath of office on Bibles that belonged to Lincoln and King.
Up to 700,000 people, compared to close to two million who attended Mr Obama’s first inauguration four years ago, began converging on the Mall before dawn. The crowd was nonetheless the largest recorded for a second inauguration. Mr Obama is the 17th US president to serve a second term.
Mr Obama said the ceremony bore witness to “the enduring strength of our Constitution”. Speakers boasted that the US holds an unparalleled 224-year record for the uninterrupted, peaceful transition of power.
James Taylor sang America the Beautiful, while Beyoncé closed the ceremony with The Star Spangled Banner.
After the address, Mr and Mrs Obama, vice president Joe Biden and Mrs Biden, feasted on steamed lobster, hickory-grilled bison and apple pie with lawmakers. They then drove and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, where they watched the parade from a viewing stand. Eight official floats, more than 8,800 people — 2,100 of them military — and some 200 animals took part.
It was in fact Mr Obama’s fourth swearing in. He took the oath twice in 2009 because the Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts fumbled his lines the first time. This year, he took the oath in private on January 20th, as the Constitution requires, and again yesterday on the Capitol steps.
Yesterday’s celebrations were more subdued than in 2009. “This entire event is taking place in the shadow of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” explained Michael Cornfield, a political scientist from George Washington University, referring to the massacre of 20 children and six adults in Connecticut last month. “It would almost be unseemly to be too exuberant.”
Forty thousand people attended two official inaugural balls last night, compared to 10 in 2009. Four days of celebration, which began on Saturday and will culminate this morning with a prayer service in the National Cathedral, are expected to cost $100 million.