Thousands of handheld flags rippled from the Capitol Lawn to the Washington Monument as Barack Obama was publicly sworn in to his second term as the 44th President of the United States Jan. 21.
He centered his second inaugural address on the pursuit of both equality and the American dream, two ideals preserved and protected by the U.S. Constitution. He vowed to promote equality for people of all races, genders, and —for the first time in inaugural history — sexual orientation.
“That is our generation’s task, to make these works, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American,” he said in his speech. “Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness.”
He briefly addressed several key issues of the 2012 election — the federal deficit, immigration reform, climate change and entitlement spending — and called for a political ceasefire within Congress.
“For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay,” he said. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”
He assured the audience of America’s prominence on the global stage, but he asserted the need for education reform and job market improvements to maintain its place in the spotlight.
To achieve these goals, he called for national unity and shared responsibility, two themes somewhat reminiscent of his 2009 speech. This time, though, he emphasized national pride rather than national crisis.
“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,” he said.
His words rang out over a sea of hopeful faces bundled against the morning chill. Gloved hands applauded his stirring turns of phrase.
Jordan Taylor, a senior at Howard University in Washington, D.C., said he braved the cold to witness history after voting in the Presidential election for the first time.
“It’s a big deal, you know,” he said. “He’s the first black president in history. I came last time, too. I want to tell my kids that I was there.”
Nearly a million others seemed to share in his sentiment, officials estimated, though Obama’s second inauguration wasn’t as well attended as his first.
The celebrity presence was just as large, though. Myrlie Evers-Williams delivered the inaugural prayer, James Taylor sang America the Beautiful and James Franco read a poem he wrote for the occasion.
The regality that emanated from the Capitol balcony was punctured only by a lone man who scurried up a three-story tree roughly two hundred yards from the building with a sign that read “Pray to Stop Abortion.” He broke the silent moments of the ceremony with passionate cries to save the nation from certain damnation.
Beyoncé drowned him out with a powerful rendition of the National Anthem, but he resumed his cause as throngs of spectators exited the lawn. Many stopped to take a picture as he swayed precariously on the tree’s topmost branches.
Though he conceded the protester’s presence was a distraction, Dan Evers, a resident of San Jose, Calif., said he was glad he flew across the country to witness a Presidential inauguration for the first time.
“It was beautiful,” he said. “It was exactly the inspiration we all need to do better as individuals and as a nation.”