BARACK Obama has been sworn in publicly to his second term as president of the United States, calling for an end to the deep political divisions that defined his first four years in office and declaring “we are made for this moment”.
Watched by up to 900,000 spectators in Washington DC – about half the number that thronged the National Mall for his first inauguration in 2009 – he urged “common effort and common purpose” to tackle issues such as the burgeoning US national debt, gun control, immigration and the lingering debate over healthcare.
The president, who became only the 17th of 44 holders of the office to win a second term, laid out the challenges for the years ahead in an 18-minute address that avoided specifics.
“We are made for this moment and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together,” President Obama said after his swearing-in by John Roberts, chief justice of the US Supreme Court.
“Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. But [progress] does require us to act in our time. Decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.
“We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of our healthcare and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”
He referenced historic gay-rights riots, naming them as a civil rights watershed along with key moments in the struggles for blacks and women. The president said the truth that all are created equal guides us today “just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall”.
The Stonewall riots happened in New York City in 1969 when patrons at a gay bar reacted to police harassment. The events helped found the modern gay-rights movement.
Mr Obama said the presidential oath he swore was to “God and country, not party or faction” and promised he and his cabinet would “faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service”.
His words, which touched on the massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School that claimed the lives of 20 children last month, his proposals to offer some illegal immigrants a path to US citizenship, and even climate change, struck the required tone, according to some analysts.
“He realises that if anything’s going to be done in his second term, it’s going to have to be done on a bipartisan basis,” said presidential historian Henry Brands, professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.
“Presidents in their inaugural addresses always speak in bipartisan fashion. The real question is whether the actions follow through. People will forget the words the day after tomorrow and he’ll get back to business.”
Mr Obama was formally sworn in during a brief ceremony in the White House on Sunday, fulfilling a constitutional requirement to complete the process by noon on 20 January. In a ceremony full of symbolism, yesterday’s public swearing-in took place on Martin Luther King Jnr Day, a national holiday commemorating the assassinated civil rights leader.
Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of Medgar Evers, another murdered pioneer of the civil rights movement, delivered the invocation.
The celebrations also incorporated showbusiness, with Mr Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, enjoying the national anthem from pop star Beyoncé.
Many prominent politicians attended the event, including previous US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and former and present members of Mr Obama’s team.