Obama: Seize the moment together
Washington (CNN) — It was a seemingly wistful moment at the halfway mark of his presidency, before the celebratory parade and the evening’s galas.
Shortly after exhorting the United States to continue its “never-ending journey” to live up to the ideals of its founders, on his way off the platform at the West Front of the Capitol, President Barack Obama stopped to drink in the scene before him.
“I want to take a look one more time,” he told those surrounding him. “I’m not going to see this again.”
And so, with his oath of office taken — again — and the speech delivered, the president stood aside for 24 second on the chilly Monday afternoon, letting the crowd that had joined him for his formal, public second inauguration file past.
A long day still lay ahead for the president and his family, a day after he was sworn in on the constitutionally required date in a low-key ceremony at the White House. The flag-waving crowd that watched Monday’s event was noticeably smaller than the throng that turned out for his first oath in 2009 but still packed the National Mall for blocks.
Police on motorcycles lead as United States President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk along Pennsylvania Avenue during the parade following Obama’s second Inauguration as the 44th U.S. president on January 21, 2013 in Washington. Monday’s ceremony followed a private swearing-in Sunday, January 20, at the White House.
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wave as they walk along Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday.
Spectators watch as the president and first lady travel along Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday.
Members of the inaugural parade walk along Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday.
People watch as President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are driven past crowds during the Inauguration parade on Monday, in Washington. President Obama was sworn in for a second term office at the U.S. Capitol building.
President Obama shares a moment with House Speaker John Boehner, second from right, as first lady Michelle Obama applauds at the inaugural luncheon in Statuary Hall on Inauguration Day at the U.S. Capitol building on Monday.
President Obama waves as the presidential inaugural parade winds through the nation’s capital on Monday.
President Obama exits his limousine to walk during a portion of the presidential inaugural parade on Monday.
People stand on barricades near the White House while trying to catch a glimpse of the president’s parade on Monday.
Men in traditional colonial garb perform as President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk along Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama wave to the crowd as they make their way along the parade route on Monday.
President Barack Obama walks along a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue along the Parade Route during the 57th Presidential Inauguration on January 21.
President Obama, his wife Michelle Obama, left, Vice President Joe Biden, second from right, and his wife Jill Biden walk down the stairs with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael J. Linnington during the presidential review of the troops on the east side of the U.S. Capitol on Monday.
Former President Jimmy Carter, left, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, center, and former President Bill Clinton arrive at the Inauguration for President Obama’s second term of office on Monday.
Left to right, Donica Perez, Janelle Stewart, Shani Perez, Kinda Romero and Danielle Houston watch the Inauguration on the Jumbotron near the U.S. Capitol building on the National Mall.
United States President Barack Obama gives his Inaugural address at his Inauguration ceremonies at the U.S. Capitol, Monday, January 21.
President Obama takes the oath of office during the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in on Monday.
Igor Naumovski is among the flag-waving celebrants on the National Mall during the inauguration ceremony on Monday, in Washington.
First lady Michelle Obama makes her way to watch her husband take the oath of office for a second term in a public ceremony Monday.
People cheer at a television camera on the National Mall before the inauguration ceremony Monday in Washington.
President Barack Obama addresses the audience after taking the oath of office on January 21.
Tourists watch Monday’s inauguration from Times Square.
Thousands of people attend the 57th presidential inauguration on January 21 in Washington.
Michelle Obama arrives with daughters Sasha, left, and Malia for the inauguration on January 21.
Obama speaks after taking the oath of office on January 21.
The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir performs at the inauguration ceremony on January 21.
People gather for the presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 21.
Michelle Obama holds the Bible as her husband takes the oath of office on January 21.
Obama waves during the public ceremonial inauguration on January 21.
Attendees wave flags at the public ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Obama on January 21.
People watch from the National Mall as Obama is sworn in on January 21.
Obama takes the oath of office on January 21.
Kelly Clarkson performs “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” during the presidential inauguration ceremony on January 21.
Obama, center, pauses before walking out the door of the U.S. Capitol to begin swearing-in ceremonies on January 21.
Obama is sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts as first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha watch on Monday, January 21.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden had already taken quiet oaths the day before Monday’s public ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
The president and first lady appear exuberant Monday as Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York joins them at the inauguration.
Celebrity couple Jay-Z and Beyonce arrive Monday at the inauguration.
The president greets his daughters Sasha and Malia at the Capitol on Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter greet the crowd Monday.
Obama salutes as he arrives Monday at the West Front of the Capitol.
Bonita Volcy and nephew Cullan King, 10, of Texas try to keep warm on the National Mall in Washington on Monday.
The Lee University Festival Choir from Cleveland, Tennessee, performs Monday on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol.
A presidential cutout rises above the crowd gathering Monday near the Capitol.
The U.S. Capitol Police stand guard Monday atop the Capitol.
A place card awaits President Barack Obama for Monday’s inaugural luncheon in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.
Throngs gather Monday for the inauguration.
Crowds await the start of the presidential inauguration Monday on the Capitol’s West Front .
Police stand guard along the inauguration parade route Monday.
People gather near the Capitol on the National Mall for Monday’s inauguration ceremony.
A woman with an Obama button waits near the Capitol on Monday.
President Barack Obama arrives Monday at St. John’s Church hours before taking part in a ceremonial swearing-in for his second term.
An inaugural attendee yawns while others huddle beneath a blanket Monday at the Capitol.
President Barack Obama takes the oath of office Sunday from U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts as first lady Michelle Obama holds the Bible, with daughters Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, by their parents’ side in the White House Blue Room.
People gather near the U.S. Capitol building on the National Mall for the ceremony on Monday.
Roberts arrives to administer the oath of office to Obama at the White House on Sunday.
Michelle Obama hugs her husband after he took the oath of office on Sunday.
A stage technician from Maryland Sound International sets up microphones for the presidential inauguration at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Sunday.
David Carr poses with one of the Barack Obama doll heads he is selling as Washington prepares on Sunday for Obama’s second inauguration.
A chorus rehearses at the U.S. Capitol building on Sunday.
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York greets people at the Capitol on Sunday.
Christian evangelist Mary Clement of Silver Spring, Maryland, sings and reads from her Bible as she walks along Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House on Sunday.
Obama and Biden lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on January 20.
/>An American flag waves at the U.S. Capitol building on January 20 as Washington prepares for Obama’s second inauguration.
Biden takes the oath of office from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the Naval Observatory on Sunday as his wife, Jill Biden, right, looks on.
Workers prepare the parade route in front of the U.S. Capitol building on Sunday.
The Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture is decoratively lit for the 2013 Inaugural Youth Ball on Saturday, January 19, in Washington.
The inaugural reviewing stand is under construction in front of the White House on Friday, January 18.
A souvenir salesman displays inauguration memorabilia on sale on Friday.
Workers prepare the U.S. Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony on Friday.
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The inauguration: Behind the scenes
The waving flags, the red-white-and-blue bunting and the heralding trumpets marked the 57th such ceremony in the history of the nation, with the peaceful extension of power based on last November’s election that returned Obama to the White House.
The Sousa marches, the ceremonial guns and the voices of James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce having faded away, Obama headed into the Capitol for a luncheon with members of Congress. Then he led the traditional parade up Pennsylvania Avenue, stopping near the White House to walk a few blocks of the route with first lady Michelle Obama to the cheers of those lining the sidewalks.
“You’ve got to come out for this,” said Nick Pignone, a Washington resident. “Everyone’s excited — good vibes right now.”
Also publicly sworn in for a second term was Vice President Joe Biden, who, like Obama, also took his official oath Sunday. Justice Sonia Sotomayor performed the honors for Biden at his home at the Naval Observatory in Washington, where the vice president’s extended family and a few Cabinet officials gathered to watch the ceremony.
Biden and his wife, Jill, also took some time to walk part of the parade route, with a grinning Biden periodically jogging over to the sidelines to shake hands with people across the barricades. Once both couples and their families were seated at the White House reviewing stand, one of the first acts to pass was the marching band from Honolulu’s Punahou School, Obama’s alma mater.
What followed included dozens of military and school bands, Native American dance troupes whirling in traditional dress, war veterans, Civil War re-enactors, kilted firefighters blowing bagpipes and Montana’s governor and congressional delegation on horseback and in cowboy hats.
The parade wrapped up around 6:30 p.m. ET, with the president and first lady still scheduled to attend two official inaugural balls.
Obama, the first African-American president and the 17th to win a second term, used a pair of Bibles in Monday’s ceremony — one from Abraham Lincoln, the other from Martin Luther King Jr. His roughly 2,000-word inaugural address hearkened back to both.
“I did everything possible today to keep from crying,” said U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, a onetime lieutenant of King. He called the sight of Obama using King’s Bible “very moving, unreal — almost unbelievable.”
Monday is also the federal holiday commemorating the birthday of King, who was assassinated in 1968.
The loudest cheer of Obama’s address came when he said the nation’s journey remained incomplete “until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts,” and “until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”
Obama begins the second half of his presidency with the opportunity to make it more historic but facing some of the same challenges that he struggled with in the first four years.
Americans “have the power to set this country’s course,” he said, urging people to fulfill their citizenship by meeting “the obligation to shape the debates of our time — not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”
On the Mall, Carlos Arieta and his wife, Sharon, took in the scene after driving from Atlanta to witness history. The former Washington residents said it was the first time they had attended an inauguration.
Surprised by the throngs gathered a few hours before the speech on a clear morning with temperatures just above freezing, Arieta said “it’s nice to see all the different kinds of people.”
Even some of those who didn’t support Obama’s November re-election turned out to watch. Don King, 27, and his 21-year-old brother Matthew said they don’t agree with the president on taxation, debt and other fiscal issues but didn’t want to miss this bit of history.
“It’s the second inauguration for Obama, and it’s pretty amazing if you think back to the 1800s and later during the civil rights era, that we’re here,” Don King said.
A new CNN/ORC International poll released Monday indicated less excitement this time than four years ago, when nearly 2 million people crowded the Mall despite frigid weather for Obama’s historic first inauguration.
In January 2009, nearly seven in 10 Americans questioned in a CNN survey said they were thrilled or happy that Obama was about to take office. Now, according to the new, that number is down 18 points, to 50%.
Back then, six in 10 saw Obama’s inauguration as a celebration by all Americans of democracy in action, with just 39% saying it was a political celebration by the supporters of the winning candidate.
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Now, the numbers are nearly reversed, with 62% saying the second inauguration is a celebration by those backing the president, and 35% saying it’s a celebration of democracy.
“The thrill is gone, along with the hope that the start of a new presidential term of office will bring a divided nation together,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
Reality of second-term presidencies
The smaller crowd this time around reflects the reality of second-term presidencies, when the novelty and expectations of a new leader have been replaced with the familiarity and experiences of the first act.
For Obama, that difference is even sharper. His historic ascendancy to the White House in 2008 came with soaring public hopes and expectations for a new kind of governance that would close the vast partisan gulf developed in recent decades.
However, a litany of challenges, including an inherited economic recession and repeated battles with congressional Republicans over budgets and spending, only hardened the opposing positions in Washington.
Obama’s signature achievements, including major reforms of the health care industry and Wall Street, became symbols of political division, with opponents constantly accusing him of hindering needed economic recovery.
For his second term, Obama has vowed to press for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration policies and new ways to boost the sputtering economy, proposals that are bound to spark battles with his Republican rivals, and oversee the implementation of Obamacare.
And the shootings at a Connecticut elementary school last month put the divisive issue of gun control on his immediate agenda.
CNN polling released Sunday showed a majority of Americans — 54% — believe Obama will be an outstanding or above average president in his second term, while 43% said he’d be poor or below average.
And while overall, seven in 10 Americans hope the president’s policies succeed, only four in 10 Republicans feel that way, with 52% hoping that Obama will fail.
But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, told CNN, “Today is the day for all of us in this country to come together.”
“I think the president did a fine job, certainly, laying out what he would like to see happen as far as the future of the country,” Cantor said. “There are areas of disagreement, but there are also some things fundamentally we agree on, and that is this country is one of opportunity. And sort of the way we get there to help everybody, there are some differences. Hopefully, we can bridge those differences.”
CNN’s Jennifer Liberto, Dana Bash, Dana Davidsen, Ashley Killough, Paul Steinhauser, Jessica Yellin, Dan Lothian, Brianna Keilar, Kevin Liptak and Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.