WASHINGTON – Before a flag-waving, cheering crowd of hundreds of thousands, President Obama and Vice President Biden prepared Monday for the public celebration of their second term.
Four years ago, Obama took office with the country in the midst of two wars and the worst economic crisis in more than half a century. His second inauguration arrives with one war over, the other winding down and the economy recovering, but with Washington dominated by a bitter political stalemate that reflects a deep partisan divide in the nation.
Obama is expected to use his inaugural speech, typically one of the most watched events of a presidency, to address that divide, aides said.
“He is going to talk about the fact that our political system doesn’t require us to resolve all of our disputes or settle all of our differences,” senior Obama political advisor David Plouffe said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But it does impel us to act where there should be, and is, common ground.”
The inaugural ceremonies, themselves, highlighted the idea of bipartisanship and continuity of American democracy. Two of Obama’s predecessors, Democrats Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, were among the dignitaries gathered at the Capitol’s West Front.
So, too, were many of the congressional Republicans who have battled Obama through the past four years. The country’s two living former Republican presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were not present; the elder Bush recently was recently released from a hospital in Houston after a bout with bronchitis.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said before the ceremony that he expected most Republicans to attend the inaugural ceremony, a historic moment regardless of party. He noted that he had prime seats for Obama’s first inaugural and regretted not snapping any photos of the proceedings.
“I’m going to try to this time,” he said.
Chicagoans in D.C., ‘vested in his success’
Spencer Gould and his wife, Ardenia, of Chicago, arrived at the Capitol early enough to get seats on the front row of their section, directly center of where the president will take the oath of office.
For about a minute, Gould said, he considered staying at home in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood, but quickly realized that he could be no place else but here.
“We have worked on all of his campaigns,” said Gould, 38. “We go back to when people couldn’t pronounce his name. It has been such a great experience to watch him go from someone no one knew to a world leader.”
Four years ago, he said, he wanted to be part of the historical moment. This time, he came to show his support.
His wife, Ardenia, 37, said this time seems more subdued, compared to the electrifying experience of 2008.
“I feel vested in his success,” said Ardenia Gould, who started out working on his senate campaign.
In his next term, she said, she would like to see the president use his power to push his policies through.
“I want to see him flex his political muscle and move this country in the direction it needs to go, regardless of what happens on the other side of the aisle.” she said. “Now is the time to play hard ball.”
She said she supports the president’s push for gun control and she does not want him to back down from that.
“Our kids are under siege, so I hope he can do something about gun control,” she said. “That and keeping us from falling off the fiscal cliff are my two biggest concerns.”
Her husband said he would like to see the president address trade issues so that more America-made products are available to consumers.
“I want to support our economy but it’s very hard to find products made in America,” he said. “I’d love to see more of those on the shelves.”
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First family’s fashion for the day
First lady Michelle Obama chose a navy-colored coat and dress by designer Thom Browne on a day when she’ll be the most-watched woman on the planet.
The fabric for the ensemble was based on the style of a man’s silk tie, an aide said.
Known for mixing and matching haute couture and off-the-rack pieces, Obama chose a necklace from Cathy Waterman, a cardigan by Reed Krakoff and a belt and shoes from J.Crew.
Daughter Malia, 14, picked out her clothing from J.Crew. Sasha, 11, went more upscale with a Kate Spade coat and dress.
After the inauguration, the first lady, who is sporting new hairstyle featuring bangs, plans to give her outfit to the National Archives, the aide said.
Former Obama pastor in town
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the president’s former Chicago pastor whose sermons touched off a firestorm in the 2008 political campaign, urged today that Barack Obama heed the words of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and transform the country into the world’s “No. 1 purveyor of peace.”
Wright, in the capital today but skipping the inauguration, recalled a speech by King during the Vietnam war, when the civil rights leader denounced the U.S. as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
Obama tweet: ‘Let’s go’
Obama, seeking to build on momentum from his decisive re-election on November 6, will lay out a vision for the next four years in his inauguration speech while trumpeting several notable first-term achievements, including a healthcare overhaul, ending the war in Iraq and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
“We have a chance to finish what we started. Our work begins today. Let’s go,” Obama said in a pre-inauguration message on Twitter.
When Obama raises his right hand to be sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts outside the U.S. Capitol at 10:55 a.m. Chicago time, it will be his second time taking the oath in 24 hours.
He had a private swearing-in on Sunday at the White House because of a constitutional requirement that the president be sworn in on Jan. 20. Rather than stage the full inauguration on a Sunday, the main public events were put off until Monday.
Obama began the day worshiping at St. John’s Episcopal Church across from the White House. He will then take the oath again and deliver his inaugural address from the Capitol’s west front overlooking the National Mall.
As Inauguration Day dawned and people streamed through the wintry cold toward the Capitol grounds, Washington was in security lockdown, with thousands of police and National Guard troops deployed, barricades up and Humvee military vehicles blocking major intersections.
Outside the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, an elaborate presidential viewing stand, encased in bullet-proof glass, awaited Obama and other VIPs to watch the inaugural parade.
Obama’s main political opponent in Congress, Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, plans to attend a White House tea before the ceremony, as well as the inaugural speech and a post-event lunch at the Capitol with the president and lawmakers.The inauguration ceremony will include music – singers James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson will perform patriotic songs and Beyonce will sing the national anthem – and also feature Vice President Joe Biden taking the oath of office again after doing so already on Sunday.
Obama and the first lady will join Biden and his wife, Jill, at the capital luncheon before the two couples take part in the inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.
Obama could get out of his limousine and walk part of the way to interact with the crowd, as have presidents in the last several inaugurals.
After watching the rest of the parade from a viewing stand in front of the White House, the Obamas will change and head to the two inaugural balls – an official ball and one for military personnel and their spouses. That is a dramatic reduction in activities from 2009, when there were 10 official inaugural balls.
Tribune reporters Dahleen Glanton, Katherine Skiba, Reuters and the Los Angeles Times contributed.