Themes Of Unity And Dissent At Obama's 2nd Inauguration

NPR hosts and correspondents check in at the Capitol as Inauguration Day festivities get under way.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. President Obama will be sworn in today for his second term. And as you can hear, coming at us right now, we have NPR folks all over the capital today - from the Martin Luther King Memorial to the National Mall. The inauguration will be covered live, later this morning. Now, let's join MORNING EDITION's Steve Inskeep and our team, who are at the Capitol. Morning, Steve.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hi there, Renee. It's one of those mornings where it's a beautiful day - the sun is out - but we're stuck in position in the shade. So you're waiting for the sun, to get your way. But not too cold today. I want to mention that very early this morning, as people were coming to this spot - the west front of the Capitol, where thousands have already gathered this morning - we passed a cluster of older women, many of them African-American. And they were dressed warmly, as you would expect, for people who will be spending hours and hours in the cold. But they were also dressed, we noticed, formally - floor-length fur coats, wonderful hats.

And you realize that although this is not the first inauguration of Barack Obama - it's a second inaugural; it's not a change of power - it is still a profoundly significant day, for many people. We're going to be talking about that live throughout the morning. And we'll be joined by NPR's Audie Cornish, the new co-host...

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: ...of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So four years ago, Audie, I believe you were several miles that way, although...

CORNISH: I was, I was. In fact, I brought binoculars this time around, so I could see where I was. I was standing just outside the Lincoln Memorial. And this morning, there are little specks - I can see - there are lots of people sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. And I know people are talking about the history of today falling on Martin Luther King Day holiday, and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. But it had that same kind of historic feeling four years ago. Then, of course, lots of people - who didn't even bother coming up here, to the crowds; they stayed down at the Lincoln Memorial.

INSKEEP: And I should explain - we're on a set of bleachers here, effectively overlooking the spot where the president will deliver the Inaugural Address a little later today, and take a symbolic oath. The formal oath was taken yesterday. We are looking out over the Mall, to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Also with us is NPR's Ari Shapiro, who covered the presidential campaign; has covered the Obama White House. People have noted how this is a different moment because it's a second inaugural. How is the man different, do you think, than four years ago?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: You know, he is so much older, in so many ways - beyond the four years. You think about the man who came here who was sworn in, in 2009; who was a Washington outsider, and took pride in being a Washington outsider; who wanted to change the way Washington worked; who talked about dramatic improvements that he hoped to make in society, some of which he was able to accomplish. But in so many ways, the last four years have been a lesson for him in how difficult it is to accomplish so many things. He comes here not talking about - you know, the country may be unified, yes. But the message of bipartisan unity that he tried to bring four years ago has been, in a way, undermined by reality of his first term.

INSKEEP: Can I just mention that we are looking down at the lectern where the president will speak. Behind him are many semicircles of folding chairs, where dignitaries will sit - members of the House and Senate, other leading politicians from around the country. And many of them are people with whom the president has had harsh, harsh battles and rhetoric over the past four years. There is a lot of - a lot of past between the people...

SHAPIRO: And many of these battles have been more acute, and more visible, than in the past. I think about, for example, during the State of the Union, congressman Joe Wilson shouting, "you lie"; or Supreme Court justices shaking their heads, saying no, that's not true; really vivid, partisan fights.

CORNISH: At the same time, you know, we were looking at some of the early remarks that Sen. Lamar Alexander is supposed to make today. He's on the committee - help planning the inauguration. And he talks about unity; he talks about the passing of power from one president to another - that, happening peacefully. So they're still using that kind of language.

SHAPIRO: That's the difficult balance he has to strike. This is a day of unity; it is a moment of unity. But it comes at a time when the country knows how much dissent there is.

INSKEEP: OK. It is a national moment, coming after a partisan campaign. It is a tradition. It is a time, often, when power changes. In this case, you pass from one term to another. Officially, the moment took place yesterday, midday; in a private ceremony at the White House. This is the public ceremony, and symbolism will be important. We will continue to follow this throughout the day. NPR News will have special coverage, live coverage; beginning at 10 o'clock Eastern, and 7 o'clock Pacific time, on many NPR stations. Renee.

MONTAGNE: Steve, thanks very much.

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