His left hand barely removed from the two Bibles chosen for his ceremonial swearing-in, Barack Obama used his second inaugural address boldly to urge his fellow citizens to make the most of the new hour - the end of two wars and the start of an economic recovery - to honour a shared vision of prosperity, peace and equality.
“My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together,” Mr Obama asserted in a speech that echoed the creeds he campaigned on last year, ranging from protecting the poor and disadvantaged to gay marriage, from healthcare reform to climate change. As such, he threw down the gauntlet to Republicans; there will be no backing down from the principles he believes in.
He spoke on a crisp day in Washington before a crowd of hundreds of thousands on the National Mall that briefly broke out into chants of “Obama, Obama” as he rose to speak. Not dwelling directly on the rancour of his first term, or delving too deeply into policy details for his second, Mr Obama sought to strike a tone of optimism and hope.
“America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention,” he proclaimed.
The pomp on the West Steps of the Capitol was leavened with a rendition of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ by Beyoncé who was accompanied to her seat by her rapper husband Jay-Z; as royals of music, they threatened almost to steal the show.
Mr Obama took the oath of office using Bibles that had belonged to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. Later, the inaugural festivities turned to the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue with the first couple leading and, of course, the tux-and-gowns inaugural balls at the Washington Convention Centre in the evening.
When the oath of office ceremonials were almost done and Mr Obama was being led off the make-shift platform to return inside the Capitol, he turned around and for perhaps half a minute surveyed the ocean of Americans below on the Mall absorbing the history of the moment and, perhaps, his achievement in earning a second term.
Streaming into the Mall earlier – some even before sunrise – supporters of the re-elected President seemed tempered in their hopes for his second term. “I want civility,” offered Peggy Higgins, a Maryland social worker tired of bad blood in Washington. “And I want stricter controls on guns,” she added, paraphrasing what she said she had heard comedian Chris Rock say on the television: “Give ‘em all the guns they want but charge $5,000 for every bullet”.
While he omitted to mention gun control directly, Mr Obama spoke of the need to protect all Americans from danger including in the “quiet lanes of Newtown”, the Connecticut town struck by last month’s school shooting. They need to “know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm,” he said.
Though adorned by familiar rhetorical flourishes, Mr Obama’s address was also blunt as he sought to remind Republicans who was in charge after his dispatch of Mitt Romney in the elections, while at the same time saying that only compromise will make progress in Washington possible. In a direct swipe at the Republican right flank, including Tea Party members, he intoned: “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”
Mr Obama’s confidence was evident as he touched on divisive issues, such as preserving Medicare even while tackling the deficit. “We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of healthcare and the size of our deficit,” he said. “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.”
Nor he did he shy from his promises to pursue solutions to threats to global security and climate change. “Failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” he declared.
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