By Jeremy Barr
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's second inaugural address, delivered on a cold, cloudy afternoon, set out a clear vision for a more equal, unified America.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office to Obama on Monday, however the president was officially sworn in on Sunday, as constitutionally-mandated.
“My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment,” the president said in his 19-minute address. “And we will seize it -- so long as we seize it together.”
Obama’s speech eschewed specific policy proposals, though he vowed change on a slate of progressive causes, from global warming to gay rights.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said.
His reference to climate change is sure to please environmental advocates, many of whom criticized the president for failing to address it during the campaign debates.
“I’m hopeful that he has a broad environmental agenda,” said U.S. Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac, on Thursday, adding that he's optimistic about Obama's chances of success.
“A second term gives any president more flexibility because there are no re-election constraints,” Delaney said.
Gay rights advocates, too, won reference in Obama's speech.
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else,” he said, eight months after publicly supporting same-sex marriage.
And, while Obama didn’t offer details, he called for immigration reform, an issue he is expected to prioritize in his second term.
“Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” he said.
Obama issued an executive order in June 2012 intended to stop the deportation of children of illegal immigrants. His signature immigration reform legislation, the DREAM Act, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010 but has not made it through the Senate.
Obama’s speech was well-received by Marylanders, who braved heavy traffic, road blocks and chilly, January temperatures to be part of the event.
“I never dreamed when I was a kid that I’d see a black president,” said Cyril Byron, 92, of Baltimore, one of several former Tuskegee airmen in attendance. “We prayed for a day like today.”
Byron’s was the first African-American squadron to fight during World War II, at a time before the civil rights movement.
“We were over there fighting for their freedom and we didn’t have it back in the U.S.,” he said.
Obama, he said, has a tough road ahead, and he is “going to have to fight.”
Stephanie White, 30, of Beltsville, said Obama’s speech “was what the nation needed to hear.”
“I’m very excited to see what will happen these next four years,” she said.
And while she’s never been inaugurated, one young Marylander in attendance knows a thing or two about being on the big stage. Queen Griffin, 13, of Silver Spring, was Miss Maryland Pre-teen 2012.
Griffin said she attended to show Obama that she is there for him: "No matter all the struggles that he faced as the U.S. president, we'll always be behind his back.”
Gray Johnson, a case manager from Baltimore watching the speech on a Jumbotron on the Mall, said he liked Obama’s second inaugural speech more than his first, but the poor audio diminished his experience.
"It was skipping almost like a bad tape," he said. "People actually started walking out. It never fixed itself. The whole speech was like that."
Johnson said Obama’s speech had a lot of substance, particularly on the economy.
Democrats have widely praised the president for turning the economy around. The unemployment rate stands at 7.8 percent, down from 10 percent in October 2009, and other economic indicators show growth.
Still, disagreements about the best way to reduce the country’s soaring deficit led recently to the “fiscal cliff,” which was averted by a last-minute compromise that allowed taxes to rise on incomes of more than $400,000.
While the measure avoided an across-the-board tax increase, it is only temporary, and debate over a long-term answer to the country’s budgetary problems will continue this spring.
Obama did not directly discuss gun control -- though he mentioned Newtown, Conn., the site of a Dec. 14 elementary school shooting and the need to keep children safe.
The shooting in Newtown, which left 28 people dead, including 20 school children, has renewed a national debate about gun control. On Jan. 16, Obama outlined 23 executive actions he plans to take to help stem the tide of gun violence.
Though his speech was not overtly partisan, Obama alluded to the current gridlock in Washington.
“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” he said.
During his first term, Obama faced strong Republican opposition in Congress.
“They were obsessed with destroying him, not helping the country,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who in 1983 became the second African-American candidate for president, paving the way for Obama’s historic election in 2008.
“I hope this time they will change their disposition and put America first,” Jackson said.
Republicans have frequently criticized Obama for what they see as his unwillingness to engage them legislatively, in contrast to the bi-partisan approach he embraced as a candidate.
“I hope President Obama decides to change course and work with Congress in his second term,” said U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, in an email. “Our challenges are too great for the continued partisanship.”
Officials estimated the crowd Monday at about 1 million, down from the 1.8 million who attended Obama's 2009 inaugural.