Smaller crowd, but still excitement this time
President Barack Obama supporters arrive on the National Mall in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, for President Barack Obama's ceremonial swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Schoolteacher Patricia Cooper gazed out at the many hundreds of thousands of people lining the National Mall, moments after Barack Obama had been sworn in for the second time as president.
"The media kept saying there were going to be so many fewer people," said Cooper, 51, from Upper Marlboro, Md. "But look out there!" she beamed. "We still have a pretty big crowd."
True, the crowd was roughly half that of Obama's momentous inauguration in 2009, and the sense of history, and pure excitement, far less potent. But despite a more sober national mood, there was plenty of enthusiasm — even among people who'd been there the first time, like Cooper — and oh yes, star power, as the capital threw its marathon, once-every-four-years party.
"I was there last time, and I was just so proud to be here again this time," Cooper said. "And the weather was great!"
It was a warmer day indeed, with a noon temperature of 40 degrees. And if the day was balmier, it seemed its whole aura was mellower, too, with not only the president but his whole family looser than four years ago. Malia and Sasha, no longer adorable little girls but rather stylish young women, chatted on the podium, showing how comfortable they'd become after four years in the public spotlight, and Michelle Obama sported a hip new haircut: blunt-cut bangs. Even Chief Justice John Roberts seemed more relaxed; well, he breezed through the oath of office that he had stumbled over four years ago.
Of course, it was lost on no one that the president was renewing his oath at a somber and difficult time for the nation. A still struggling economy. The fiscal crisis. The fight over gun control, in the wake of the horrific shootings in Newtown, Conn. The continued threat of terrorism. A general sense that the country is more polarized than ever.
President Barack Obama bows as he and first lady Michelle Obama, wearing a ruby colored chiffon and velvet Jason Wu gown, gets ready to dance as singer Jennifer Hudson, right, sings Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" at the Inaugural Ball at the Washington Convention Center during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
But for a day, the capital city celebrated. And as always, it was a marathon, with more than 12 hours of public events for the president, beginning with a morning prayer service, through a parade that went past dark, with the president still standing and clapping — and the Inaugural Balls, of course.
And though the president went home not long after 10 p.m., Washington was still buzzing. Downtown was gridlocked, as taxis, a hot commodity, tried to navigate closed-off streets. Stevie Wonder was singing at the cavernous Washington Convention Center, where the balls were held, and the Goo Goo Dolls and Ke$sha were performing at separate events elsewhere — just a few of the happenings that turned Washington into Celebrity Central for the weekend.