WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama delivered his second inaugural address on Monday, saying the sturdy ideals of the nation's founders should guide Americans through the divisive issues of the day.
The president made a much stronger pitch to his Democratic Party base than he did in his first address four years ago as he called for action on climate change and immigration reform and defended social programs for the poor and elderly. The nation's first black president also said “our journey is not complete” on civil rights, specifically referencing gay marriage and equal pay for women.
America proved its resilience through an economic crisis and a decade of war, Obama said, and has “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.”
Speaking on the west front of the U.S. Capitol, with many of his political foes seated nearby, the nation's 44th president said the age-old debate about the role of government didn't have to be decided for all time but that progress requires action “in our time.”
“For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay,” the president said.
“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”
Journey not complete
Obama, 51, delivered his public address to hundreds of thousands of people on the National Mall a day after he was formally sworn in for his second term; he and Vice President Joe Biden repeated their oaths in Monday's ceremony.
Though the crowd didn't match the 1.8 million that attended his historic 2008 inauguration, roars of approval from the Capitol to the Washington Monument, about a mile away, greeted the president and performers Beyonce, who sang the national anthem, Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor.
Dana Orwig, of Oklahoma City, the vice chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, and her husband squeezed into a standing-room spot on the National Mall to witness their first inauguration ceremony.
“We figured this might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance, she said.
“I was very excited to be a part of it.”
Orwig said she appreciated the president's remarks about sustainable energy sources and his call for Americans to work together.
After the speech and lunch with members of Congress, the president and Biden, along with their wives, walked part of the inaugural parade route from the Capitol to the White House before settling in at the viewing stand.
Delivering his address on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Obama said Americans must continue the work of civil rights pioneers and extend the nation's promises of liberty and equality to women in the workforce, gays hoping to marry, immigrants, people trying to exercise their right to vote and children threatened by gun violence.
“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.
Jonathan Townsend, 23, of Tulsa, said the president's remarks, coming on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, were particularly powerful and made him think about “how far we've come in regard to equality and tolerance and even justice.”
Townsend, the leader of Oklahoma's NAACP chapter for young people, said he was thrilled to be at an event “where so many people seemed so energetic and so inspired to make the country a better place.”
Obama, who is in the midst of a fight with congressional Republicans over spending and reforming entitlements, said hard choices would have to be made.
But, responding to Republican calls for entitlement program cuts — and the apparent sentiments of his vanquished Republican rival Mitt Romney — the president said, “The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us.
“They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”