President Barack Obama’s second inauguration was an anticlimax — inevitably so after the lofty promises of change and transformation made from the U.S. Capitol steps four years ago.
Then, a happy, even joyous crowd approaching 2 million — the largest in Washington history — gathered to hear the inspirational new president with the funny name and the distinction of being America’s first black president.
On Monday, a cheerful but much smaller crowd — officials estimated attendance at around 500,000 to 700,000 — gathered on the Mall to witness a public swearing-in that was in itself an anticlimax. Because the constitutionally mandated swearing-in date of Jan. 20 fell on a Sunday, the oath was first administered at the White House with only Obama’s immediate family in attendance and Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.
The 2013 Obama is now a battle-scarred chief executive, hardened by the political realities of governance that he was unable to change. If Obama believed then that the logic of his arguments, the depth of his conviction and fervor of his supporters would carry the day, he was quickly and brutally disabused of that notion when congressional Republicans announced that their No. 1 goal was to see that he would not survive politically to see his second inauguration.
Perhaps their impossibly high expectations and his detached manner kept Obama from getting his due, even from his supporters. As the smoke of political battle clears, his first term emerges as one of significant accomplishment, including: universal health care; a bailout plan that, however imperfect, saved the U.S. auto industry and managed a recession; an overhaul of financial regulation; extracting us from one war and beginning to extract us from another.
Perhaps the most glaring bit of unfinished business is that of balancing America’s books, reconciling generous social promises — such as care of the sick and aged, and the education of our young — with our ability to pay for them. The problem is not insoluble, but it will require a generation of political heroes that has yet to emerge.