Obama summons nation for 2nd term: ‘We are made for this moment’
In his second term, Obama faces a polarized political climate. He must address fiscal issues — tax revisions and spending cuts — and pressing international obligations: stopping Iran’s nuclear program, navigating an end to the war in Afghanistan and avoiding tensions with China over the administration’s “pivot” to Asia. In the weeks since he defeated Republican Mitt Romney, he’s already battled with Republicans in Congress over tax increases and spending reductions.
Outlining the nation he envisions, he sounded the themes of his recent campaign as a call for using the federal government to shift the benefits of the country and its economy to the poor and middle class and away from the wealthy.
“We, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” he said. “We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.”
He connected past sacrifices to today’s struggles for equality: civil rights for gays, equal pay for women, economic equality for the poor.
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still,” Obama said. “Just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”
Republicans, who joined Obama at the White House in the morning for coffee and later at the Capitol for lunch, expressed hope that the two sides could work together on fiscal issues.
“The president’s second term represents a fresh start when it comes to dealing with the great challenges of our day; particularly, the transcendent challenge of unsustainable federal spending and debt,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Republicans are eager to work with the president on achieving this common goal, and we firmly believe that divided government provides the perfect opportunity to do so. Together, there is much we can achieve.”
The Obamas, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, started their day with a prayer service at St. John’s Episcopal Church a few blocks from the White House, where every president since James Madison has worshipped.
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At the service, Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., told the story of Jesus moving from being the most powerful person in the room to a servant washing disciples’ feet and directing others to do the same.
“What do you do when in a position of power? You leverage that power for the benefit of other people in the room,” he said. “Mr. President, you have an awfully big room.”
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A few hours later, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. administered the 35-word oath — the same one recited by every American president since George Washington. — at the West Front of the Capitol, which was draped with red, white and blue bunting.
On a day the nation honors Martin Luther King Jr., Obama placed his hand on two Bibles — King’s traveling Bible and the burgundy velvet-covered Lincoln Bible. Obama also had used the Lincoln Bible four years ago, the first to do so since it was used by Abraham Lincoln himself.
Michelle Obama smiled broadly, while even members of Congress snapped photos with their phones.
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“Congratulations, Mr. President,” Roberts said just before a 21-gun salute boomed.
Singers Beyonce, James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson performed. Richard Blanco, the youngest ever inaugural poet and the first Latino or gay person to recite a poem at the swearing-in ceremony, read his “One Today.” Civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams delivered the invocation.
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