This time, however, the man taking the oath of office was an experienced president, not a first-term senator. And Obama seemed determined to relish the rituals and have himself some fun.
In his public remarks, he spoke with conviction. From the Capitol steps, he asserted his intention to bind the nation closer together. He was sober in addressing members of Congress at a luncheon.
But the president also found joy in the smaller moments. He blew kisses as he walked the parade route with his jubilant wife, Michelle, beside him. He bobbed his head and grooved watching a drill group from Iowa pass by and waved the shaka sign to the marching band from his Hawaiian high school alma mater. On the dance floor later, he nuzzled his wife’s hair and crooned in her ear.
There was a majesty and gravity to Monday’s proceedings, but this time, unlike four years ago, Obama knows what his office demands, as well as the limits on its power. His life is not in transition like it was then. He is settled.
He seemed to recognize that the next time the country pauses to inaugurate a president, the Obamas will be moving out of the White House, departing the city by helicopter and heading home. After the ceremony on the Capitol steps, as the president headed inside, he turned back and stopped.
“I want to take a look, one more time,” Obama said. “I’m not going to see this again.”
He stood still and looked out at the panorama of flags waving and people, hundreds of thousands of them, cramming the Mall and chanting his name.
It was as if he wanted to engrave the picture on his mind.
And he seemed to savor such moments throughout the day.
When the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” he turned and broadly winked at his daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11.
Myrlie Evers-Williams, a civil rights activist whose husband, Medgar Evers, was assassinated in 1963 in his Mississippi driveway, delivered the invocation. She spoke of being challenged by adversity — “For every mountain, you gave us the strength to climb,” she said — and Obama, his eyes closed in prayer, lifted his shoulders and took a deep breath.
“Amen,” he said at the end of her prayer.
A man behind the president shouted, “Hallelujah!”
When Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. delivered the president’s oath at 11:50 a.m., Obama flubbed a word, “the office of president of the United Sta—.” But it didn’t matter. He had recited the official oath correctly a day earlier, on Jan. 20, the inauguration date mandated by the Constitution. (His daughter Sasha already had congratulated him, too: “You didn’t mess up,” she told him in the Blue Room. )
Then, once Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced him as “the 44th president of the United States,” Obama looked down and smiled. He gathered himself and pushed his chin up, understanding his role in addressing the nation far more clearly than he could have the first time around.