Obama's Second Inaugural Outshines His First

The president's speech was beautifully crafted for abstract goals at home and abroad.

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President Barack Obama receives the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts at the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th presidential inauguration. First Lady Michelle Obama holds the bible as daughters Malia and Sasha watch.

The 2013 Inaugural weather was a bit warmer and Barack Obama's speech was a lot better, compared to the joyous swearing-in rite of passage four years ago.

But something was not quite the same: the elation and euphoria of 1.8 million people was missing. This time, don't get me wrong, it was a happy day—President Obama beamed for the first time in a long winter. That he had earned this day in history was shown by the gray increasingly mixing in to his hair.

But everything was more tempered and grounded not so much in the urgency of now, but the politics and persuasion of how. Obama did not directly bring up gun control or the debt limit, the two most pressing, vexatious issues he will bring from his first to his second term.

[Robert Schlesinger: Obama's Second Inaugural Was a Shot Across the Tea Party Bow]

Maybe he's going back to Mr. Nice Guy with House Republicans? That would be bad. At any rate, he did not confront his enemies or reward his friends today. Instead, he floated lofty philosophy about the never-ending American journey, with more emphasis on the Founders in "a spare Philadelphia hall" than usual.

Gay weddings also entered the speech, the one social issue on which Obama has changed his position to move forward. Dear to my heart, he mentioned "Seneca." It was at Seneca Falls where the first women's rights convention was held in 1848. Lucretia Mott was the main speaker and Frederick Douglass came, too. Thank you, Barack. That made up for the "all men are created equal" line he repeated, giving Jefferson more than his due.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

All told, the speech was beautifully crafted for abstract goals at home and abroad. The tone was confident and determined. The sharpest elbows were aimed at a wealthy few not paying their fair share, a battle Obama fought but did not win in the last go-round on the "fiscal cliff" New Year's Eve just three weeks ago. But unlike in 2011 when his nonwins were losses, he fought this one to a draw.

This speech broke over the sand just hours ago, so these thoughts are like fresh foam. I hope my editor, Robert Schlesinger, agrees it was a much better effort than the rather grim, prosaic speech we heard from Obama, facing a financial crisis as a new young president. Odd that it produced such an outpouring, but then they did not come for the first inaugural speech.

[See a slide show of the 5 best inaugural addresses.]

Then, people came for history they helped make. The euphoria on the National Mall also had to do with us, we the people. We were so glad to see George W. Bush go, after eight deeply crushing years. So we projected a lot onto Obama, without really knowing this dazzling newcomer.

We know Obama better now, and he knows us better. He's no longer the starry eyed suitor. We're married now, and four years is a long time in love—and politics.

  • Photos: Obama's Second Inauguration
  • Read Brad Bannon: Obama's Inaugural Address Must Change the Conversation
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