Earlier, at a morning service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, the Rev. Andy Stanley said in his sermon that Obama is the “pastor in chief” because of how he helped the nation mourn after last month’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“What do you do when you’re the most important person in the room? You are the decision-maker,” said Stanley, of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.
Four years ago, the senator from Illinois took the oath of office brimming with aspiration to bring bipartisan harmony to a broken Washington. Since then, he has struggled through crises whose scope he could not have fully appreciated beforehand: an economy in free fall, a debt crisis and the deaths of troops. Storms and mass shootings have brought sudden devastation.
“I know that former president Carter, President Clinton, they understand the irony of the presidential office, which is the longer you’re there, the more humble you become, and the more mindful you are that it is beyond your poor powers individually to move this great country,” Obama said at the lunch inside Statuary Hall at the Capitol.
And, while he has been criticized for being standoffish, he left his plate of lobster tails, bison and butternut squash to work the room. He walked to every table and shook every hand, Democratic and Republican, perhaps trying to signal a new day.
“I recognize that democracy is not always easy, and I recognize there are profound differences in this room, but I just want to say thank you for your service,” the president said, “and I want to thank your families for their service.”
Obama spent the morning with his top campaign advisers close by and the day surrounded by his family. Those most responsible for guiding the president’s reelection bid — Stephanie Cutter, David Axelrod, Jim Messina, David Plouffe — had premier seats at the swearing-in.
Arrayed behind the president at the ceremony were the women with whom he lives: Michelle, Malia and Sasha, and Michelle’s mother, Marian Robinson, who lives on the third floor of the White House. The president’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and her husband, Konrad Ng, made the trek from Hawaii; another half-sister, Auma Obama, also came. Michelle Obama’s brother, Craig Robinson, and his wife, Kelly, were with the Obamas as well.
Unlike four years ago, the first family was not preoccupied with the moving into the White House. This time, the family seemed more relaxed and comfortable, even playing pranks on one another. When the president’s limo returned to the White House on Monday morning after church, Malia sneaked up to surprise her father.
“Boo!” she shouted as he got out of the car. “You scared me!” Obama told his eldest daughter.
Seven hours later, as the family settled into the reviewing stand to watch the parade, a relief set in. Malia and Sasha pulled out their phones to take pictures and applied lip gloss. The president chewed gum and checked his BlackBerry. And when the Isiserettes Drill and Drum Corp from Des Moines performed, the Obamas started shimmying.
He watched and clapped and grinned until the parade ended, although the first lady slipped away to get ready for their last inaugural balls.
In 2009, the Obamas looked like they were mortified at the demands from cheering crowds to dance a little closer. Not so Monday night.
“There’s one last thing I gotta do,” the president said at the Commander in Chief’s Ball, and smiled broadly. “I’ve got a date” — for one more dance.