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Obama Urges Crowd To Seize The Moment 'Together'


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Many inaugural addresses play on themes that President Obama touched on yesterday.

GREENE: He cited the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, our tradition of self-government and earlier inaugural addresses.

INSKEEP: That's all pretty normal. What is different about each inauguration address is how the president molds those themes into the moment.

GREENE: In this case, the moment is one of severe partisan divisions. And the president ended the speech with a call for Americans to do more than vote.

INSKEEP: He asked for their voices in his battles with Congress to come.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: In some ways, President Obama's second inauguration was a mirror image of his first. Four years ago, the record-smashing crowd was ecstatic, while the new president was somewhat subdued. He knew better than most the depth of the recession ahead.

This time around, the crowd's enthusiasm was tempered by the last four years. But Obama himself sounded upbeat, saying a decade of war is ending and the economy is finally taking off again.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment and we will seize it, so long as we seize it together.


HORSLEY: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who'd once vowed to make Obama a one-term president, called yesterday's swearing-in a fresh start. McConnell says Republicans are eager to work with the president to reduce federal spending.

Obama agreed that the government needs to trim the deficit and health-care spending but not, he says, at the cost of education or the basic social safety net.

OBAMA: 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.


HORSLEY: The president touched on areas he hopes to tackle in the next four years, including tax reform, an immigration overhaul and climate change. But detailed policy prescriptions will have to wait until next month's State of the Union Address. Yesterday's speech was aimed at rooting the president's policies in a long tradition of American politics.


OBAMA: So help me, God.

ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President


HORSLEY: As Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath, trouble-free this time, Obama rested his hand on two Bibles; one that belonged to Abraham Lincoln, the other to Martin Luther King. Obama could look past hundreds of thousands of spectators to the Lincoln Memorial, where 50 years ago, King challenged America to live up to the true meaning of its creed, that all men are created equal.

That truth may be self-evident, Obama says. But it's never been self-executing. Bringing the words to life, he called a never-ending journey.

OBAMA: We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American. She is free. And she is equal not just in the eyes of God, but also in our own.

HORSLEY: Obama reminded his audience that even before Lincoln's time, the government invested in collective measures to boost the middle-class. And he spoke in the one breath of Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall, tying together the campaigns for equality for women, African-Americans and gays.

OBAMA: For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.


OBAMA: Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.


HORSLEY: Obama was speaking just steps away from Supreme Court members, who are set to rule this year on two big cases involving same-sex marriage. He was also surrounded by members of Congress who could determine the fate of much of his agenda.

Republicans seem more likely to compromise on immigration reform, after losing big among Latinos in November, than they are on, say, guns. Obama says some differences are to be expected, but lawmakers shouldn't mistake absolutism for principle.

OBAMA: Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time. But it does require us to act in our time.

HORSLEY: Obama thinks one way to compel lawmakers to act is through public pressure. He's telling supporters even though the election is, over they need to stay engaged in the political process.

OBAMA: You and I as citizens have the obligation to shape the debates of our time not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.

HORSLEY: By invoking those ancient values, Obama hopes to gain traction in the present day policy debates that may occupy much of the next four years.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

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