Inauguration Events Share Day With King Holiday

Regular Morning Edition contributor Cokie Roberts discusses what she expects to hear in President Obama's second inaugural address, and how it can set the tone for his second term.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Joining us now, as she does most Mondays, is Cokie Roberts. And on this Inauguration Day, we're both face to face - which is really nice.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: It's very nice.

MONTAGNE: We're in the studio. It's like a little party.

ROBERTS: (LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Although the second Obama inauguration - and much has been made of this - is not, of course, the same scope as the first, possibly; certainly does not have the historical sweep as the first. But what do you expect to see in here today?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, the first, according to the Joint Committee on the Inaugural, was the most attended event in the history of Washington - not just inauguration, but event ever. So we're not going to see that today; and we don't have that symbolic change of power, which is so goose bump-provoking - you know, when the former president leaves in the helicopter, and the new president takes over. But still, it is, as President George W. Bush called it, democracy's big day.

You know, after the campaign - that's so vicious these days - and before we get into the horrible fights in Congress - which we will soon - you have a day of everybody coming together and feeling that this country is one. And people bring their children to witness history. I have a picture of me in 1949 on somebody's shoulders, at the Truman inaugural. And it is just - it is a day when already outside, at this hour, there are people lining up, getting ready; and they have smiles on their faces.

MONTAGNE: Well, there is something also extra special about today; and that - of course - is, it's Martin Luther King Day, and special significance for this president.

ROBERTS: Certainly, very significant. And he will take the oath on both the Abraham Lincoln Bible, which he used four years ago, and Martin Luther King's Bible. So highly symbolic; and it comes at a time of great symbolism, in terms of race in America. We are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was of course, promulgated by President Lincoln. And it is going to be - later this year - the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which finally, really did begin to change attitudes about race and the laws about race because almost - we're almost 50 years to the day of George Wallace saying, segregation now, segregation forever. And that, of course, was the situation 50 years ago. So it took activism on the part of Dr. King and others, to change that.

You know, another little footnote, Renee - a hundred years ago, with Woodrow Wilson's first inaugural, he was - the oath was administered by the chief justice, Edward White, who had fought in the Confederate Army. So, you know, we really have not come - we've come a long, long way. But it's taken a lot of effort.

MONTAGNE: Well, in the midst of these anniversaries of great hopeful moments, or moments of coming together, we - this inauguration is coming at a deeply divisive time in our history; a divided nation. Can the president really do anything to change that?

ROBERTS: It's going to be very tough. But I think that's what he will try to do today because we are not just divided by race but by ethnicity, by age, by region and by party. In the most recent ABC poll on presidential approval, there was a 73-point gap between Democratic approval of the president, and Republican approval of the president.

So he's got a lot to overcome - and a lot of big issues that are already out there, dividing the Congress. Of course, first and foremost, the fight over the deficit and debt reduction, and then immigration reform; guns now on the table - and very divisive issue; and climate change may be coming up; and then all the foreign policy. The horrible events in Algeria remind us that foreign policy can overshadow everything, if there's a crisis. And so the president has a lot on his plate. But today is the day to put that aside, and to just say congratulations, America.

MONTAGNE: Cokie Roberts, good to see you on this Inauguration Day.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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