TIME’s political team canvassed Washington, D.C. Tuesday, following the Inauguration Day festivities. Highlights below:
4:45 p.m. Obama’s 2008 election had a Cinderella quality to it. But the President may be enjoying his second inaugural more than the first. Why? It’s not just because he’ll never have to worry about winning another election. It’s because, this time, the world isn’t burning down around him. The U.S. economy was in free fall; the January 2009 jobs report was the worst in 34 years, showing 600,000 jobs shed. The American auto industry was spiraling towards failure. The fate of the entire world economy was very much an open question. And the world was a scarier place: If it wasn’t quite clear yet to Obama that Afghanistan was in more dire shape than he realized, requiring more troops than expected to achieve even minimal goals, it was soon to dawn on him. It remained to be seen whether Iraq could hold together. Osama bin Laden was still alive, and al Qaeda was arguably gaining strength in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Four years later, the world is still a fragile and uncertain place. But the economy is slowly growing, not collapsing. The Afghanistan war is winding down and no American troops remain in Iraq. Bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda–recent events in northern Africa notwithstanding–is a diminished threat to the U.S. homeland. Plenty of big problems still loom, from Iran to the budget. And some unknown new crisis may lie just around the corner. But four years ago Obama must have felt like he was diving into the presidential waters wearing a suit of armor; his most urgent priority was simply not to drown. This time it should be much easier to actually swim. —Michael Crowley
4:30 p.m. The subtext of Obama’s speech? “My critics are reactionary extremists!” writes Michael Grunwald, who argues a speech “billed as a homily to common ground” was an extension of Obama’s attempt to divide and conquer Congressional Republicans. Read his take here.
4:26 p.m. Eva Longoria led the way in a cop car, followed by a fife and drum band, then a bayonet troupe (hail echoes of horses and bayonets!), not to mention dozens of police in triangle formations–America certainly puts the pomp in pomp and circumstance on Inauguration Day. Crowd enthusiasm remained high on Pennsylvania Avenue, even though temperatures started to drop and the President and Vice President left the Capitol luncheon nearly one hour behind schedule. But the long and cold wait soon was worth it, especially for onlookers along the middle of the route when president and Mrs Obama got out of the motorcade to walk and wave. And the president? His smile was huge. —Elizabeth Dias
3:29 p.m. After the ceremony, about 300 Washington VIPs filed into the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, where 35 stone-faced American icons–from Alexander Hamilton to Brigham Young–looked down on elaborate luncheon tables. The room was vibrant with oxblood tapestries, plush blue chairs and orange-rose centerpieces. As a string quartet played, legislators, Washington power players and former Presidents arrived to await the men of the hour. An announcer twice asked everyone to take their seats, which nearly no one did. He then introduced Vice President Biden–but the introduction was premature. On a second try, Biden appeared. President Obama soon followed.
As all finally sat, New York Sen. Charles Schumer, head of the congressional inaugural committee, introduced the all-American menu of New York wines, South Dakota bison and New England shellfish. After an invocation, the guests were invited to eat. As dessert was served, there were ritual presentations of mementos, gifts, photographs and toasts. Boehner, offering the official inaugural flags, said those present were there “to renew the appeal to better angels,” echoing Obama’s comments in his inauguration speech about overcoming differences. Schumer toasted Vice President Biden and his “unique” partnership with Obama, and then Biden toasted Schumer, saying that the inaugural lunch is his favorite milestone: “It’s always a new beginning every time we’re in this room.”
For a moment before the luncheon started, Obama was isolated at the head table, with no one to talk to. As the other guests gabbed away at their tables, Obama looked straight ahead, like he had minutes before when he paused on the Capitol steps to take in the scene on the National Mall. When he spoke at the end of the luncheon, Obama doubled down on the promises that Washington will transcend its divides and spoke about the “irony” of the presidential office. “The longer you’re there, the more humble you become,” he said, “and the more mindful you are that it is beyond your poor powers individually to move this great country.” —Katy Steinmetz
3:02 p.m. It’s hard to discern now how history will judge Barack Obama’s second inaugural address. But one aspect of the speech — Obama’s forceful call for equal rights for gays — is certain to be remembered, because it made history. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” Obama said. It was the first time that a President invoked the rights of gays in an inaugural address. In a way, Obama is an unlikely figure to break the mold; he did not support the rights of gays to marry until the final year of his first term. Now, freed of political constraints and embracing a more combative posture toward his opponents, he has located the gay-rights movement in the same tradition as the battles for women’s equality and civil rights. “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” Obama said, in a reference to the 1969 riots at a New York City bar that helped catalyze the gay rights movement. —Alex Altman
2:50 p.m. Be sure to check out TIME White House Correspondent Michael Scherer’s reaction to Obama’s speech here.
2:20 p.m. Patriotism is running high on Pennsylvania Avenue. Thousands of parade enthusiasts, sporting their red, white and blue, line the famous route near Freedom Plaza, the campsite of Occupy DC protests near the White House, and await the arrival of the 44th president’s motorcade. Several dozen charter buses–still leaving the Capitol after the swearing-in–have prompted false alarms amongst the crowds that the newly-inaugurated president and first family are already approaching. Until the real thing happens, the flamenco and country music blare, and hundreds of security personnel stand guard to make sure that no one even thinks about crossing the street. —Elizabeth Dias
1:48 p.m. We’ll have more reaction to and analysis of Obama’s speech soon. But a quick note about what it wasn’t: a speech about foreign policy. As I noted earlier, George W. Bush’s second inaugural speech was almost exclusively focused on the outside world and his democracy-promotion agenda. Obama’s speech focused on equality and opportunity at home, while barely touching on the foreign crises still facing America — including the civil war in Syria, the menace of Iran’s nuclear program, and Afghanistan’s uncertain fate. Foreign policy policy experts are grousing about this on Twitter, though it’s not clear what difference a few speech lines would have made to any of these story lines. Domestic politics are more likely to be influence by Obama’s agenda-setting than global events. And Obama may have made a tonal decision: most of the foreign issues noted above are downers, whereas Obama seemed determined to set an optimistic, uplifting tone (in contrast to his rather dour 2009 inaugural address). One might argue that Obama has a greater obligation to warn the country of the foreign crises that burn away. But that will have to wait for another day. —Michael Crowley
12:08 p.m. The full transcript of the President’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, can be found here.
12:03 p.m. As the president speaks, see an interactive panorama of what he sees from his vantage point here.
11:52 a.m. Conservatives like to make fun of Barack Obama for his grandiose talk (downsized since he first ran for president) of change. Slowing the rise of the oceans and all that. But in that context, it’s worth recalling the scope of George W. Bush’s second inaugural address. Bush described an aggressive democracy promotion agenda with the goal of nothing less than “ending tyranny in our world.”
We have seen our vulnerability—and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny—prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder—violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom. We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world…. So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
Read the entirety of Bush’s ambitious speech here. —Michael Crowley
11:40 a.m. Thousands of people milled around downtown, some heading to the mall, others just enjoying the carnival-like atmosphere. Streets usually clogged with city traffic were transformed into an enormous pedestrian zone stretching from H street NW across the mall. Stores and stands were hawking hot chocolate, Verizon cell phones, Obama inaugural t-shirts and hats, tacos, roti, water and flags, amongst other things. Pedicabs were allowed and were popular with tourists and locals alike weary or chilled from walking. The official inaugural store on F street between 11th and 12th drew a crowd, eager for official coins, plates, dvds and apparel. Enterprising fundraisers on street corners for Planned Parenthood and Greenpeace tried to sign up supporters and raise money. Buskers playing the violin, mandolin and a New Orleans brass band dotted the streets. Many restaurants played home to corporate watch parties; bar televisions usually reserved for sports — or in wonky Washington news channels or CSPAN — were all tuned to the inaugural scene on the Capitol steps. The famous Old Ebbitt Grill next to the White House was taken over by the Huffington Post and the Third Way for one such party. —Jay Newton-Small
11:35 a.m. For many in the audience, the invocation Myrlie Evers-Williams is punctuated by the constant yells of an anti-abortion protester who has climbed a tree on the Capitol grounds (carrying a sign that says “pray to end abortion”) and has not been removed by officers around the base. —Katy Steinmetz
11:07 a.m. On a day like today, it’s often fun, if a bit surreal, to watch Fox News. I just watched Megan Kelly and Bill Hemmer discuss how deeply disappointed Americans are with President Obama, because he’s an out-of-control spender who failed to create jobs. “That’s just a statement of fact,” Kelly said. Very good news for Mitt Romney! Now Brit Hume is talking about how “extraordinarily partisan” Obama has been since, uh, whatever happened in November. And Kelly is quoting the old line about democracy being the worst form of government, except for all the others.
On a more serious note: How many times are right-wingers going to remind us that unemployment was 7.8% when Obama took over and it’s still 7.8%? To beat a dead horse: Obama inherited an economy that was shedding 800,000 jobs a month, and unemployment shot up another 2 points in his first year. Now we’re gaining 200,000 jobs a month, and unemployment has decreased 2 points in the last three years. It’s legitimate to complain that unemployment hasn’t decreased enough, but come on. Someday revisionist historians will make a big deal about this. —Michael Grunwald
11:00 a.m. As President Obama entered the Capitol, he greeted the Congressional leadership and announced, “I miss this place. It looks great.” Chances are he really doesn’t miss it all that much. —Michael Scherer
10:33 a.m. The gospel reading at church for President Obama this morning included this passage, from Matthew 6:25: “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” It is an idea that the President long ago internalized, in a different context. As he told Vanity Fair’s Michael Lewis last year, “‘You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,’ he said. ‘I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.’ He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. ‘You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.’” The full passage from this morning’s bible reading can be found here. —Michael Scherer
10:12 a.m. Sister Simone Campbell of the Nuns on the Bus made a splash during the campaign by speaking at the Democratic National Convention, and traveling the country by coach to offer a Catholic defense of ObamaCare. That earned her front row seats to the second inauguration, and she has been loving every moment despite the cold. Good thing she has on her “bipartisan red and blue mittens,” as she calls them. “We got here early because we didn’t know how long everything we take, it’s our first time,” she says. Could she have imagined this four years ago? “Not even a year ago!” she says, all smiles, passing out Nuns on the Bus stickers to people sitting around her. We can expect to hear more from Campbell, one of the surprise stars of this election cycle and the Democratic National Convention–stayed tuned, she says. —Elizabeth Dias
10:00 a.m. North of the mall, Grace Herbert stood a corner wearing the bright red cap that designates the thousands of volunteers helping people to find their way through the chaos. “I’m smiling more than I ever smile,” the Leesburg, Va. native said. She handed out pamphlets that showed the parade route and the Capitol grounds. Herbert said she felt like she was giving back, manning a station from 4:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. She won’t see the ceremony itself, but she’ll help others find their way all day.
Hucksters sold memorial lanyards with big fake tickets that said, “I witnessed history,” 2013 flags, calendars, framed pictures of the First Family and unofficial programs for $10. The buildings around them were outlined in flags and red, white and blue bunting. One couple from Dover, Delaware had returned after selling buttons in 2009. The first time, they came with a team of six and sold thousands. This time it was just the two of them, Grace and Maurice Williams. And they brought just 500. “The first time around, it was the most unbelievable, electric feeling,” Maurice says. “This time, it’s more of a relief, like ‘Thank God he’s in office.’” But he said, people are still happy. There’s just less electricity in the air.
Down the street, young men sold inauguration condoms with Obama’s face on them and taglines like “The ultimate stimulus package.” Nearby another man rolled in a station where he hawked prints of a “Freedom Riders” painting, showing African-American icons, from the First Couple to Tupac to Rosa Parks, dressed in black and galloping across a bright landscape on horseback. Smaller prints were priced at $25, bigger ones at $50. Just feet away another stand was unloading hoodies decorated with Obama’s face and script declaring the 57th Inauguration.
At the Capitol, actress Alfre Woodard walked by the crowds and posed for pictures. “The country is abuzz with a feeling of commitment and belonging and understanding,” Woodard tells TIME. “I fell exhilarated for everyday Americans.” —Katy Steinmetz
9:40 a.m. Joe and Jill Biden and the Obama family have just returned from a morning service across the street from the White House at St. Johns Church. The official service on the Capitol steps is not set to begin until 11:20 a.m. For more on how the ceremony will go, check out TIME’s guide to Who’s Who in the Inauguration Ceremony.
9:15 a.m. The Republican Party has mostly fled the capital today to avoid the jubilant crowds, but amid the festive mood there are reminders of Washington’s bitter partisan divide. In the Capitol South Metro station, near the GOP-controlled House, a group called “Bankrupting America” plastered signs assailing the swelling national debt across pillars and walls. “Talk is cheap. Overspending is not,” they declared, alongside pictures of calculators and graphs bemoaning the U.S. budget deficit. Outside, as vendors hawked Obama buttons and decals and hand-warmers, the President’s opponents pressed leaflets into the hands of passers-by. “Not my president,” read one, advertising a “Disinauguration Ball” Monday night at a restaurant across the Potomac in Arlington. —Alex Altman