Barack Obama faced a smaller crowd, and a more subdued country, on Monday as America's first black president marked the beginning of his second term and repeated the oath he took in a private ceremony the day before.
In his inaugural address, Obama urged Americans on Monday to reject political "absolutism" and partisan rancor and issued a call for national unity, setting a pragmatic tone for the daunting challenges he faces over the next four years.
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"We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate," Obama said as he stood in the wintry cold atop a giant makeshift platform on the Capitol steps overlooking the National Mall.
Making an entrance (Photo: AFP)
Laying out an ambitious program for his coming term, the president used his inaugural speech to urge the country to join him in tackling a vast array of problems, from slowing climate change to honoring the dignity of men, women and children around the globe.
"My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together," Obama said. He also marked a new direction in foreign policy as the US prepares to pull troops from Afghanistan, ending the country's longest war.
"We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war," the president said outside the Capitol, looking out across a huge crowd.
Obama sworn in on Monday (Photo: Reuters
He challenged those who favor aggressive use of the powerful US military to recall the policies of presidents past.
"We are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well," said Obama, who is under heavy pressure from the right-wing leadership of US ally Israel and powerful voices in Congress to launch military strikes against Iran's nuclear program.
Looking out on a sea of flags, he spoke to a crowd of up to 700,000 people, less than half the record 1.8 million who assembled four years ago.
There was a loud cheer for Beyonce and Jay-Z as they took their places to watch the ceremony. Beyonce performed shortly afterward.
Actress Eva Longoria was seated on the platform outside the Capitol. Also seated in the crowd were singer Katy Perry and John Mayer.
Musicians Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor also performed at the inaugural ceremony.
High-profile guests. Beyonce and Jay-Z (Photo: EPA)
The politician who rose improbably from a history as a community organizer in Chicago and a professor of constitutional law to the pinnacle of power faces a nation riven by partisan disunity, a still-weak economy and an array of challenges abroad.
Obama also faces a less charmed standing on the world stage, where expectations for him had been so high four years ago that he was given the Nobel Peace Prize just months into his presidency. "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," the Nobel announcement in 2009 read.
The president, First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia began the day at St. John's Episcopal church, which was built in 1812 and is known as the church of presidents. Pastor Andy Stanley of Georgia delivered the sermon and recalled watching Obama's speech to the nation a day after last month's Connecticut school shooting. He said Obama was "pastor in chief" in those moments.
Monday's events, including parades and fancy dress balls, had less of the effervescence of four years ago. Obama is now older, grayer and more entrenched in the politics he once tried rise above.
Hillary and Bill Clinton at ceremony (Photo: AFP)
In the briefest of ceremonies Sunday, with family gathered in the White House, Obama took the oath of office shortly before noon, as required by law. With his left hand on a family bible held by his wife, the 44th president raised his right hand and repeated the time-honored words read out by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
The intimate swearing-in met the legal requirement that presidents officially take office on Jan. 20. Because that date fell on a Sunday this year, the traditional public ceremonies surrounding the start of a president's term were put off to Monday, which coincides this year with the birthday of revered civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
As he enters his second term, Americans increasingly see Obama as a strong leader, someone who stands up for his beliefs and is able to get things done, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The survey shows him with a 52% job approval rating, among the highest rankings since early in his presidency. His personal favorability, 59%, has rebounded from a low of 50% in the 2012 campaign against Republican Mitt Romney.
Spectators in DC (Photo: Reuters)
When the partying is done on Monday, it's back to business for a president who is leading a nation that is, perhaps, as divided as at any time since the Civil War 150 years ago. That conflict put down a rebellion by southern states and ended slavery.
In light of the nation's troubled racial history, Obama's election to the White House in 2008 as the first black president was seen by many as a turning point. In his first inaugural address, Obama vowed to moderate the partisan anger engulfing the country, but the nation is only more divided four years on.
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