WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama took the oath of office for his second term in front of the U.S. Capitol today concluding with a speech that laid down his basic principles of equality even as he alluded to the stormy issues ahead.
The ceremony was strong on patriotism themes, helped along by pop singers James Taylor, Beyonce, and Kelly Clarkson taking turns belting out "America the Beautiful," "The Star-Spangled Banner", and "My Country 'Tis of Thee."
"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. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it -- so long as we seize it together," Mr. Obama said.
The weather cooperated but stayed cloudy, with temperatures feeling like the 30s as a wind whipped across the Capitol and the people-filled National Mall.
The crowd was estimated at between 500,000 and 800,000 - less than half of the throngs that filled downtown Washington four years ago - but the Mall was filled and people were lined up a couple of blocks long at Metro stations.
After the speech and other events, the President was in a parade from the Capitol. He got out of his motorcade vehicle to walk a part of the parade route.
Mr. Obama was already formally sworn in on Sunday, in keeping with the requirements of the Constitution, leaving today for the ceremonial aspects of the event.
In his speech, Mr. Obama included rhetoricals to his conservative and Republican adversaries but made clear that he viewed the national political foundations to be one of human equality and care and concern for the old and the poor.
He mentioned Newtown, Conn., an apparent allusion to the coming battle over gun control. He mentioned climate change, and referred to budget disputes that are on the immediate horizon.
Mr. Obama, who beat Republican Mitt Romney in the November election, shared the day with Vice President Joe Biden, who also took the oath of office.
"But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action," Mr. Obama said. "For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias."
Sounding a little like the candidate he was three months ago, Mr. Obama said, "No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people."
"We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. 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," Mr. Obama said.
Cathy Johns, of Sylvania, who was a volunteer coordinator in western Lucas County during the campaign, heard the speech as an indication that he would be a more aggressive second term president.
"In his first term he was tiptoeing a little bit. I don't think he was tiptoeing today," said Mrs. Johns, 54, who was close to the platform and was with her husband.
"I thought he espoused Democratic values that I know I worked for," she said, recalling his points that everyone is entitled to have the same opportunities.
"That's the core foundation of our country, that we have a responsibility to educate and help those who need a little help to get into the middle class. That's not charity, that's a part of who we are in this country," Mrs. Johns said.
The President paid homage to the Civil Rights movement - fittingly on the day that also marked the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - and extended that to include rights for gays to marry, women to be paid fairly, and immigrants to be able to come and work "rather than [be] expelled from our country."
"Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia, to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm," the President said.
The President signaled that he would return to the issue of climate change, something that was largely shelved during a first term dominated by the 2008 economic meltdown, and wouldn't retreat from his commitment to alternative energy.
"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations," he said to applause. "Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.
"The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries," Mr. Obama said.
Perhaps in response to Republican criticism that America under President Obama is "leading from behind" and that the United States is withdrawing from world leadership, Mr. Obama said, "We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom."
Among the spectators were former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and his wife, Frances Strickland. Mr. Strickland, who campaigned hard for Mr. Obama's re-election, said the President showed "confidence" and "courage and charted the policy debates ahead.
"It was something the country needed to hear. I also felt like it was his attempt to trying to rally the country behind him," Mr. Strickland said afterward.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.