FIRST COUPLE–President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk the inaugural parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue en route to the White House, Jan. 21, in Washington. Thousands marched during the 57th Presidential Inauguration parade after the ceremonial swearing-in of President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
by Nancy Benac
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Let’s hear it for the do-over.
Inaugurations are always moments of great ceremony and pageantry. But, hey, everybody can rel-a-a-a-ax a little the second time around.
After the electric moment of President Barack Obama’s first swearing-in, the second inaugural was just so much more … comfortable.
(Really, Monday was a do-over of the do-over. The actual swearing-in took place a day earlier in a private ceremony at the White House.)
Yup, that was the president chomping on gum — Nicorette, perhaps — as he watched the inaugural parade, while his wife and daughters rocked out in their seats in the reviewing stands.
And, yup, there were Sasha and Malia casually chatting with their cousins on the inaugural platform earlier in the day, completely uncowed by the millions watching their every move via Jumbotron and television.
Obama seemed so at eeeeeease.
“I miss this place,” the onetime senator said with a big smile as he greeted congressional leaders upon arriving at the Capitol.
The inaugural crowds — down considerably from four years ago — knew there was no repeating the raw emotion of 2009, and most people didn’t demand it.
“I just feel so proud,” said Sharon Davis, of Suitland, Md., who attended both.
But the different vibe was palpable.
“Before, it was just so exciting — you could be walking for miles and miles and it didn’t even feel like an effort,” said Katasha Smart of Randallstown, Md.
The sentiment was the same from afar for many.
“We’ve been there, done that in terms of electing the first African-American president,” said Beniam Fantu, 34, speaking from Dallas.
With the smaller crowds came smaller headaches.
Sure, there were still snags at security checkpoints and Metro stops and the like. There was a smattering of protesters, and some glitches with the sound system.
But there was no repeat of 2009’s Purple Tunnel of Doom, the underpass where throngs of purple ticket-holders famously were stranded for hours.
Even the weather cooperated — 40 degrees at high noon, up from 28 four years ago.
And for all that was not-so-new, it was still a moment to savor. And Obama did.
As he headed back into the Capitol after the swearing-in, the president pivoted and planted himself to look back at the scene.
“I want to take a look, one more time,” he said. “I’m not going to see this again.”
Obama, who won’t ever face re-election, felt free to ramp up the inaugural program’s celebrity quotient this time.
Beyonce sang the national anthem, Kelly Clarkson did “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” James Taylor offered “America the Beautiful.”
Contrast that to four years ago, when the inaugural ceremony included Aretha Franklin but also classical musicians such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman and others, and the Hollywood types were largely saved for the evening’s balls.
Even Michelle Obama seemed more liberated this time, sporting a new haircut — with bangs! — that’s a little less first-lady-ish.
Lots of lessons learned were deployed.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who administered the oath of office to Obama on both occasions, read from notes this time.
In 2009, he’d worked from memory and flubbed the wording, requiring a private do-over the next day.
This time, the only snag in the oath-taking was a little catch in Obama’s voice as he uttered the word “states” in the phrase “president of the United States.”
Even the parade planners learned a thing or two.
They made this year’s floats shorter, to improve their turning radius and allow them to move along Pennsylvania Avenue at a faster clip. (Even so, Mrs. Obama and the girls had bailed out long before the parade reached its end well after sunset; the president hung in there through the finish.)
And about those portable toilets: organizers arranged them in clusters this year rather than long lines, to make it easier to get around them.
Some glitches were inevitable.
Malfunctioning speakers made it nearly impossible for the flag-waving fans stuck in the overflow section near the Washington Monument to hear what the president was saying.
“You’re in the IT capital of the world: How can this be so hard?” a frustrated Smart demanded.
But even there, good will was in evidence.
“It does take away from the experience, but it’s so minute, compared to being able to raise the flag for Obama,” said Anna Johnson, who came from Decatur, Ga.
The party scene for this year’s inauguration was more muted: Fewer big names. No concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Two official inaugural balls instead of 10.
But 40,000 people were ready to cram into the Washington Convention Center for those two balls.
And for many, being a part of it all was still hugely important. The fact that the inaugural festivities coincided with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday sweetened the deal for some.
Julie Davis, 69, of suburban Dayton, Ohio, said attending the event reduced her pangs of guilt for not joining King’s 1963 March on Washington, back when she was working in the city as a Black, 19-year-old intern.
She’s always regretted that she didn’t skip an out-of-town meeting to attend the march.
“Every year since that time, whenever I heard of the March on Washington or thought about it or somebody made reference to it, it was almost like a knife cutting me,” Davis said. “I am very, very, very happy to be here.”
Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat, Alan Fram, Dave Dishneau, Thomas Ritchie, C.J. Jackson, Donna Cassata, Sam Hananel and Calvin Woodward contributed to this report.