US President Barack Obama formally began his second term as the world’s most powerful political leader by taking oath on Sunday morning at a private ceremony attended only by family and close friends. Obama’s first term ended at noon on Sunday.
“I did it,” Obama said turning to his daughters Sasha and Malia after reciting the 35-word oath of office administered by US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
The President took the oath with a hand on a family Bible held by the first lady Michele Obama.
Vice-president Joe Biden and his family were there too. Biden took his oath at a separate ceremony earlier on Sunday at his residence, the Naval Observatory.
A public ceremony is scheduled for Monday. The fact that Obama’s inauguration is taking place on Martin Luther King Day on January 21 is symbolic.
Obama has been working on speech drafts since early December, studying previous second-term inaugural addresses and consulting US historians. Reason: Follow-on speeches by US presidents are often duds. “‘Let us continue’ is never as dramatic as, ‘Let us begin,’” says presidential historian Jeff Shesol.
The numbers are already down. US officials expect only 800,000 people to come to the second inauguration compared with 1.8 million who turned up for his historic first swearing-in.
A Rasmussen poll said only 58% of Americans will watch Monday's pageant on television, down from 75% four years ago.
The novelty of being the first black American president and his remarkable life history has worn off. Obama comes back with reduced voter support and may appear jaded to some after four years in the White House. He will attend only two inaugural balls on Monday, a fifth of what he did during his first. Many conservative leaders are giving both events a miss.
Obama is trying hard to invoke the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, the most popular US president, something which could backfire. Obama will swear on one of Lincoln's Bibles on Monday.
But as one Washington Post columnist noted, Lincoln in his second term was abolishing slavery and ending a civil war, while Obama will be talking taxes and deficits. Drawing parallels with Lincoln, who has a movie tie-up to boot, may raise expectations too high for a leader who faces daunting challenges both at home and abroad.