WASHINGTON – Barack Obama was to be sworn in Sunday to shoulder the power and burden of the U.S. presidency for a second term, launching two days of inaugural rituals darkened by domestic discord and crises abroad.
Obama, 51, will swear to faithfully execute the office of president at a low-key ceremony at the White House to comply with the U.S. Constitution, which dictates his first term ends at noon on Jan. 20. He will use a Bible belonging to the grandmother of first lady Michelle Obama.
In a tradition honored when that date falls on a Sunday, Obama will repeat the oath in a public ceremony Monday, and deliver his inaugural address to Americans outside at a chilly U.S. Capitol.
Obama’s second inauguration, which comes courtesy of an election win over Republican Mitt Romney in November, lacks the hope and history that pulsated through his swearing-in as the first black American president in 2009. Since then, a graying Obama has been battered by a weak economic recovery, failed to meet hugely elevated expectations for his presidency and waged a political war of attrition with Republicans that often slides into the gutter.
He begins anew with fierce budget battles looming in Congress, and with his “Yes We Can” rhetoric soured by sarcasm over the blocking tactics of Republicans in the partisan brouhaha paralyzing government in Washington. While polls show Obama’s approval ratings above 50 percent — far higher than the reviled Congress, they also indicate that many Americans, wearied by a stop-start recovery, doubt their country is headed in the right direction.
Abroad, the U.S. confrontation with Iran is fast headed to a critical point with the specter of military action becoming ever more real, the longer diplomacy over Tehran’s nuclear program is stuck in neutral.
Recent terrorist strikes that killed Americans in Benghazi and Algeria, meanwhile, call into question Obama’s election year sound bite that “al-Qaida is on the run” despite the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, increasing muscle-flexing by China and rising tensions in contested waters with its neighbors, as well as North Korea’s nuclear belligerence, will test the president’s signature pivot of U.S. diplomacy to Asia.
As he raises his right hand, 224 years after George Washington took the first oath of office to lead a new nation, Obama also knows that for second-term presidents, power quickly wanes and political potholes await.
Obama has already said that he will root his second term on the crusade to build a more equitable economy that powered his triumph over multimillionaire Romney. “I intend to carry out the agenda that I campaigned on, an agenda for new jobs, new opportunity and new security for the middle class,” Obama said last week.
On Saturday, Obama helped stain a bookshelf during an inaugural day of service at an elementary school in Washington. Obama later joked that “Michelle said I did a fine job.”