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Saturday, January 19, 2013

A low-key inauguration, second time around for Barack Obama

President Barack Obama will urge a bruised America to renew itself by recapturing its founding principle of equality of opportunity, in a subdued second presidential inauguration ceremony on Monday. Addressing a crowd expected to be half the 1.8 million who made a pilgrimage to Washington for his swearing-in four years ago, Obama will try to set a purposeful tone for his final four years in power. "This country's gone through some very tough times before," he said in a video message released by the White House in advance of the ceremony. "But we always come out on the other side." He said there was "nothing that can stop America" when its people had a "fair shot" to "get a great education, get a good job, look after their kids and get some basic security". Obama will speak on Martin Luther King Day, 50 years after the civil rights leader's rousing address at the end of his march on Washington. As he is sworn in by John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he will place his left hand on two bibles used by King and by Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president. Obama said King and Lincoln - whose Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves has its 150th anniversary this year - were the "two figures I admire probably more than any in American history". Four years after rolling into the capital on a train that passed weeping supporters all the way from Pennsylvania, Obama this time will slip less than two miles down Pennsylvania Avenue to the steps of the US Capitol building. Having prompted comparisons with the glamour of John F Kennedy's "Camelot" by dancing with his wife, Michelle, into the early hours of his first day as president at 10 different inaugural balls, Obama this year will attend just two before retiring for the night. He will speak to a nation scarcely less bitterly divided than when he promised "unity of purpose over conflict and discord" in January 2009. He must then resume bad-tempered negotiations with Republicans, who control half of Congress and fiercely oppose his agenda - from raising the US debt, to regulating guns, to fighting climate change. A poll by Rasmussen this week found that 58 per cent of Americans planned to watch the inauguration, down from 75 per cent in 2009. Some 41 per cent would deliberately ignore the ceremony, almost twice the number of four years ago. Before Monday's ceremony, Obama will be sworn in on Sunday in a closed service, in order to satisfy the US Constitution's requirement that presidents be officially inaugurated on Jan 20.

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