Obama sworn in day early due to constitutional quirk
Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States, took the official oath of office for a second term shortly before noon yesterday, as final preparations got under way at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue for today's public inauguration festivities.
The two-step induction is a quirk of the Constitution, which states that a president's term ends at noon on January 20 after an election year. Whenever that falls on a Sunday the swearing-in procedures have to be gone through twice.
Today Mr Obama will lay his hand on two Bibles, one that belonged to Abraham Lincoln and the other to Dr Martin Luther King Jr. "The movements they represent are the only reason that it's possible for me to be inaugurated," Mr Obama said last night.
While for jubilant Democrats today is about toasting their candidate, the weightier business comes with Mr Obama's inaugural address to assembled dignitaries on the steps of congress and the roughly 600,000 who will cram into the Mall.
He will not see on those faces the same thrill of anticipation as when he took office for the first time four years ago. By their very nature, second-term inaugurations never inspire quite the same excitement. "For a lot of people, this is kind of old hat," said Russell Riley, a presidential speech analyst at the University of Virginia.
Mr Obama is likely to sketch out his main domestic policy goals for the coming four years with emphasis on topics such as gun control, immigration reform and climate change, and to make reference to America's challenges abroad. His foreign crisis in-tray is already spilling over with the ongoing Iran stand-off and crises in Syria, Mali and Algeria.
If Mr Obama highlights bipartisan co-operation, he runs the risk of reminding his audience of how passionately he rehearsed the same themes after his first election only to discover that, while hope and change work well as campaign slogans, the realities in Washington are harsher.
He begins his second term both battered and encouraged. His first term was marked by the worst economic crisis experienced by America since the Great Depression and repeated clashes with Republicans who reprimanded him by taking control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections.
Yet there are reasons also for confidence. A Pew Research survey this weekend shows him with a 52pc job-approval rating, among the highest rankings since early in his presidency.