He also made a forceful pitch for action on climate change, a priority stymied by congressional opposition during Obama’s first term.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”
Obama also made a historic mention of gay rights: he apparently is the first president to ever utter the word “gay” in an inaugural address. In Obama’s list of key civil-rights turning points, there was “Selma,” for the march in Alabama in 1965. There was “Seneca Falls,” the town in New York where an 1848 convention helped launch the women’s rights movement. And then there was “Stonewall,” a reference to the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, considered the spark that created the modern gay-rights movement.
“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” Obama said. “For if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
In his address, Obama also invoked a theme from his reelection campaign: that of patience exhausted. The president said the politically gridlocked capital — and, implicitly, the Republicans who have fought his ideas — was moving too slowly at an urgent moment.
“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” Obama said. “We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.”
The president’s audience appeared smaller than in 2009, when a record crowd of perhaps 1.8 million people watched Obama take his oath. As of 6 p.m., Metro said 657,000 riders had entered its rail system, compared with 923,000 at the same time four years ago.
Still, the Mall was crowded with thousands upon thousands, waving flags and chanting “O-BAM-A.” At 11:35 a.m., shortly after the ceremony began, U.S. Park Police said the area east of the Washington Monument was full and closed to additional visitors, who would have to gather farther to the west.
Police and National Guard officials said pedestrian traffic flowed throughout the morning without incident, although a few glitches at checkpoints and in some Metro stations were reported.
Metro station parking facilities filled up throughout the morning, and some stations near the Mall were overflowing, even though federal workers and many others had the day off for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.