Festivities, progressive talk highlight Obama inaugural

With singer Jennifer Hudson crooning the ballad “Let’s Stay Together,” U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle took the spotlight at two inaugural balls in Washington Monday evening.

Michelle Obama, wearing a red Jason Wu gown designed especially for the night, sang in her husband’s ear as they danced.

The balls, and inaugural day traditions, cap off two days of official ceremonies as President Obama begins his second term.

Earlier, flag-waving crowds of hundreds of thousands of people turned out for inauguration ceremonies and celebrations of Obama’s second term of office.

They and millions more Americans who watched and listened to broadcasts of Monday’s events heard the president lay down a strong progressive agenda in his second inaugural address, demanding moderation from the conservative political opposition in Congress.

Jubilation and cheers filled Washington’s most famous boulevard, Pennsylvania Avenue, as Obama and his wife stepped out of their limousine to walk part of the traditional parade route that follows a Capitol inauguration. The parade was one of the highlights of the inauguration, with elaborate floats, marching bands from all 50 states.

Just before noon, the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, led the president in the oath of office on a ceremonial stage outside the Capitol, the seat of the U.S. government. Seated nearby were congressional leaders, family members, celebrities and two former presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

​​​​Obama and Vice President Joe Biden actually had been officially sworn into office on Sunday, since the U.S. Constitution mandates January 20 for the swearing in. So Monday was above all a day for public celebration and uplifting speeches. By coincidence it also was the annual U.S. holiday commemorating the renowned civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in 1968, shortly after his 45th birthday.

The president’s address that followed stressed some of the main themes of his 2012 re-election campaign — equality, and making the cherished national values of life and liberty a reality for every American.

​​“For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well, and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class,” said Obama in his 19-minute address.

​​The president looked ahead to a future United States where all Americans, women as well as men, no matter what their sexual preferences, are treated equally under the law. He called on fellow citizens to put aside their political differences and work together to solve the country’s problems.

Implicitly criticizing Republicans and Mitt Romney, his opponent in the presidential race, Obama offered a robust defense of Medicare and Social Security, noting those programs “do not make us a nation of takers.”

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