Chastened by his times, Obama seeks to unite nation in inaugural address

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Tempered by his times, President Barack Obama called a bitterly partisan nation to “collective action” Monday, knowing his second-term agenda will be too ambitious for many and too meek for others. “Americans,” he declared in his inaugural address, “we are made for this moment, and we will seize it -- as long as we seize it together.”

The nation’s 44th president, just the 17th to deliver a second inaugural address, Obama attempted to speak to both his rivals and allies, demanding leadership worthy of this era of economic and social transition. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” Obama said.

If that was a nod to an obstructionist GOP-controlled House, the Democrat seemed to ask patience of his liberal allies in his next breath: “We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, in 40 years, and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”

If there was a sentence or sentiment that will be carved in marble and remembered by history, it was not evident Monday. Obama is hampered the fact that he governs in one of U.S. history’s most divided moment, and that he promised to unite the country four years ago almost to the day.

Still, for the hundreds of thousands who witnessed the addressed, this was a moment to remember.

 “You only get one minute of history in your life,” said Desiree Armstrong, a barber from Wyandanch, N.Y., who travelled to Washington for hers. “This is a moment I can pass on to my children, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren.”

Maureen Bonner, 62, of Spring Lake, N.J., said, “This is a bucket-list moment for me.” Her husband, Pat, 63, attended Richard Nixon’s first inaugural in 1969. “I come back every 44 years,” he joked.

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