US President Barack Obama greets singer Beyonce after she
performed the National Anthem during the presidential
inauguration on the West Front of the US Capitol in
Washington. REUTERS/Win McNamee/Pool
US President Barack Obama has urged Americans to reject
political "absolutism" and partisan rancour, as he kicked off
his second term with an impassioned call for collective action
and established a more assertive tone for the challenges he
faces over the next four years.
Obama's ceremonial swearing-in at the US Capitol was filled
with traditional pomp and pageantry, but it was a scaled-back
inauguration compared to 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 divided Washington, Obama delivered a confident listing
of his second-term plans for the battles he intends to fight,
including over climate change, immigration reform and gay
"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. "We must act, knowing that today's victories
will be only partial."
Looking out on a sea of flags, Obama spoke to a crowd of up
to 700,000 people - less than half the record 1.8 million who
assembled four years ago.
Obama, speaking in more specific terms than expected,
promised "hard choices" to reduce the federal deficit and
called for a revamping of the tax code and a remaking of
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 US healthcare overhaul, ending the war in Iraq and
the killing of Osama bin Laden.
But fights are looming over budgets, gun control and
immigration, with Republicans ready to oppose him at almost
every turn and Obama still seemingly at a loss over how to
engage them in deal-making.
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.
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 Jan. 20. Rather than stage the full
inauguration on a Sunday, the main public events were put off
It was another milestone of political passage for Obama, the
Hawaiian-born son of a black father from Kenya and a white
mother from Kansas. An electrifying speech at the 2004
Democratic convention as a little-known Illinois state
legislator lifted him to the national stage, putting him on a
rapid trajectory to the US Senate and a few years later the
Obama, 51, his hair visibly grayed over the past four years,
sought to reassure Americans at the mid-point of his
presidency and encourage them to help him take care of
"Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires
collective action," he said.
Obama, who won a second term by defeating Republican Mitt
Romney after a bitter campaign, opened round two facing many
of the same problems that dogged his first term: persistently
high unemployment, crushing government debt and a deep
partisan divide. The war in Afghanistan, which Obama is
winding down, has dragged on for over a decade.
He won an end-of-year fiscal battle against Republicans,
whose poll numbers have continued to sag, and appears to have
gotten them to back down, at least temporarily, from
resisting an increase in the national debt ceiling.
And Obama faces a less-dire outlook than he did when he took
office in 2009 at the height of a deep recession and world
economic crisis. The economy is growing again, though slowly.
His call for political compromise contrasted with the more
combative approach he has taken with Republicans on a range
of volatile issues since winning re-election in November.
While there was no sign that Obama was returning to the more
accommodating style that marked much of his first term, it
appeared to be a signal to Republicans, who control the House
of Representatives, that he is still open to finding common
Nevertheless, Obama's appeals for bipartisan cooperation will
remind many Americans of his own failure to meet a key
promise when he came to power - - to act as a
transformational leader who would fix a dysfunctional
Even though his second inauguration was more subdued than the
first, the crowds that turned out on the National Mall made
up for their lesser numbers with an abundance of enthusiasm.
"We're a bit surprised by how few people are out here this
morning. But that's fine - makes the crowds more manageable.
The weather is delightful and we're happy to be here," said
Kathy Reid, 61, from Waco, Texas.
Obama's ceremonial swearing-in fell on the same day as the
national holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin
Luther King Jr. - and the president embraced the symbolism.
He took the oath with his hand on two Bibles - one from
President Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery, and the other
from King. Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights
figure Medgar Evers, was given the honor of delivering the
invocation at the ceremony.