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Obama's Inaugural Address Rooted In Fundamental American Texts

President Obama was ceremonially sworn in for a second term on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Monday. Robert Siegel has some highlights of the ceremony and the president's speech.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

(SOUNDBITE OF INAUGURATION CEREMONY)

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS: Please raise your right hand, and repeat after me. I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

ROBERTS: ...that I will faithfully execute...

OBAMA: ...that I will faithfully execute...

ROBERTS: ...the office of President of the United States.

OBAMA: ...the office of President of the United States.

ROBERTS: ...and will, to the best of my ability...

OBAMA: ...and will, to the best of my ability...

ROBERTS: ...preserve, protect and defend...

OBAMA: ...preserve, protect and defend...

ROBERTS: ...the Constitution of the United States.

OBAMA: ...the Constitution of the United States.

ROBERTS: So help you God?

OBAMA: So help me God.

ROBERTS: Congratulations, Mr. President.

(CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

SIEGEL: And so shortly before noon, his hair flecked with gray this time, Barack Obama was publicly sworn in to his second term by Chief Justice John Roberts.

President Obama's second Inaugural Address was rooted in the fundamental texts of American democracy - the declaration's insistence on the self-evident truth of human equality, the preamble to the Constitution's voice of "we the people." But it was very much a speech about these times; about the issues the country faces today and the priorities of the second Obama administration, one of them addressing the inequality of wealth.

OBAMA: For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.

(CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We believe that America's prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work, when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.

We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American. She is free and she is equal not just in the eyes of God, but also in our own.

(CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

SIEGEL: The president stressed our obligations to one another, acting together. And looking ahead to the budget arguments that are likely to dominate the coming months, he made a vigorous defense of the social safety net.

OBAMA: We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, anyone of us - at any time - may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security - these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great.

(CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

SIEGEL: Addressing another issue that's expected to figure in his second term, the president said that our obligations are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.

OBAMA: We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

(CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms. The path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

SIEGEL: When he addressed civil rights, President Obama added another sign of the times - a reference to Stonewall, the gay club in Greenwich Village where in 1969, police and protesters clashed, and a movement for gay equality was born.

OBAMA: 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 forbearers through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.

SIEGEL: The president indirectly acknowledged the stalemate that has claimed the federal government for months and years, and he made an appeal to make decisions, even knowing that those decisions will inevitably be flawed.

OBAMA: We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.

(CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: We must act. 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 and 40 years and 400 years hence, to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

SIEGEL: An inaugural speech inevitably elevates the president like no other event. With the Capitol dome for a backdrop, he is flanked by the most powerful office-holders of both parties, and all branches of government. Beneath him, hundreds of thousands of flag-waving supporters extend westward along the National Mall.

Barack Obama acknowledged that his oath recited today, was like the oath recited by all the nation's leaders.

OBAMA: But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above, and that fills our hearts with pride. They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country's course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time; not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.

(CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Let us - each of us - now embrace with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history; and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

Thank you. God bless you. And may he forever bless these United States of America.

(CHEERS) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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