President Obama celebrates start of second term with call for progressive unity
President Barack Obama urged Americans Monday to reject political "absolutism" and partisan rancor, as he kicked off his second term with an impassioned call for collective action in front of a smaller inauguration audience.
Obama's ceremonial swearing-in at the Capitol was filled with traditional pomp and pageantry, but it was a scaled-back inauguration compared to the historic start of his presidency in 2009 when he swept into office on a mantle of hope and change as America's first black president
Despite expectations tempered by lingering economic weakness and a divided Washington, Obama delivered a confident listing of his second-term plans for the battles he intends to fight, including over climate change, immigration reform and gay rights.
"We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate," Obama said. "We must act, knowing that today's victories will be only partial."
Looking out on a sea of flags, Obama spoke to a crowd of up to 800,000 people -- less than half the record 1.8 million who assembled four years ago. Nonetheless, the president beamed as chants of "Obama, Obama!" rang out from the crowd.
Even though his second inauguration was more subdued than the first, the crowds that turned out on the National Mall made up for their lesser numbers with an abundance of enthusiasm.
"We're a bit surprised by how few people are out here this morning. But that's fine -- makes the crowds more manageable. The weather is delightful and we're happy to be here," said Kathy Reid, 61, from Waco, Texas.
Obama's ceremonial swearing-in fell on the same day as the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. -- and the president embraced the symbolism.
He took the oath with his hand on two Bibles -- one from President Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery, and the other from King. Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights figure Medgar Evers, was given the honor of delivering the invocation at the ceremony.
Obama, 51, sought to reassure Americans at the midpoint of his presidency and encourage them to help him take care of unfinished business.
"Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action," he said.
Obama, who won a second term by defeating Republican Mitt Romney after a bitter campaign, opened round two facing many of the same problems that dogged his first term: persistently high unemployment, crushing government debt and a deep partisan divide.
His call for political compromise contrasted with the more combative approach he has taken with Republicans on a range of volatile issues since winning re-election in November.