WASHINGTON — President Obama launched his second term of office Monday sounding a call to “collective” action that affirmed his well-known support of maintaining government’s role of looking out for the least advantaged of its citizens.
“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 speech followed a red, white, and blue swearing-in ceremony with pop singers James Taylor, Beyonce, and Kelly Clarkson singing “America the Beautiful,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” respectively.
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A 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 blocks long at Metro stations.
After the speech and other events, the President took part in the annual Inauguration Day parade from the Capitol. He and First Lady Michelle Obama at one point got out of their motorcade vehicle to walk part of the parade route.
In the evening, many people attended the official Inaugural Ball in the massive Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who entertained a stream of constituents in her office in the adjacent Rayburn Building after the ceremony, said the President’s theme was unity.
“The President talked about our enduring values and working together,” Miss Kaptur said. “And it seemed to really resonate with the crowd. It wasn’t the type of speech to really ruffle anyone’s feathers.”
Mr. Obama was formally sworn in Sunday, in keeping with the requirements of the Constitution, leaving today for the ceremonial aspects of the event. Mr. Obama, who defeated Republican Mitt Romney in the November election, shared the day with Vice President Joe Biden, who also took the ceremonial oath of office.
Born in Hawaii, Mr. Obama, 51, came to political prominence as an Illinois state senator. He was still in his first term as a U.S. senator from Illinois when he emerged from a crowded Democratic field in 2008 and then defeated U.S. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.). Mr. McCain was with other senators and stood about four people away from the President as Mr. Obama took his second oath and delivered his second inaugural address.
In his speech, Mr. Obama included rhetorical appeals to his conservative and Republican adversaries, but he made clear that he viewed the nation’s political foundation to be one of human equality and care and concern for the old and the poor.
He mentioned Newtown, Conn., clearly alluding to the coming battle over gun control. He mentioned climate change and referred to budget disputes that are on the immediate horizon.
“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.
Sounding a little like the candidate he was three months ago, he 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.”
He said there will be cuts in health care and work on lowering the deficit while defending the government programs that may wind up as targets.
“We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us,” Mr. Obama said. “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
“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.
“Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time,” Mr. Obama said.
He added a note of urgency.
“Decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” 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 near 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 on the day that also marked the birthday of 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.”
He also 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 GOP 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 rally the country behind him,” Mr. Strickland said afterward.
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) praised the speech as “well-delivered” but lacked specifics as to “how we are going to address the out-of-control spending in Washington and how to rein in the trillion-dollar deficits and our national debt.”
He chastised the Democratic-controlled Senate for not passing a budget in three years and said members of Congress should have their pay withheld until they produce one. He said he is committed to working with the President to find “common-sense, pro-growth solutions that put our nation back on the path to prosperity.”
Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz said the speech was “a pretty good mix of policy announcements but also calling Congress to action.”
He heard some of the President’s condemnation of those who would label the United States a “nation of takers” as “a swipe at Ayn Rand,” the author of fiction works such as Atlas Shrugged that promote a philosophy of hard-headed capitalism.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.