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How Obama's 2nd Inauguration Will Differ From 1st

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Construction is under way on the viewing stand in front of the U.S. Capitol for President Obama's Inauguration Day ceremonies on Jan. 21.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Construction is under way on the viewing stand in front of the U.S. Capitol for President Obama's Inauguration Day ceremonies on Jan. 21.

Details are starting to come out about President Obama's second inauguration next month. The co-chairmen include some leaders of the Democratic Party and the business world as well as actress Eva Longoria. A record crowd came to the nation's capital in 2009 to witness the country's first black president take the oath of office, but this event is expected to be less flashy.

On Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, a huge metal and wood structure has been erected over the past several weeks for Inauguration Day. The same thing is happening at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the U.S. Capitol. These hard structures are pretty much exactly what they were four years ago, but the feel of a second inauguration is always very different from a first.

"By the time of the second inaugural, I could at least find my way to the mess to get a cup of coffee," says Gordon Johndroe, who worked through all eight years of the George W. Bush White House.

Like everyone who has been through two inaugurations, he says from the inside, the second one feels way more relaxed.

"The president and first lady aren't moving into a new house. The staff aren't moving from a new city. People aren't trying to find their way around the West Wing. So it just has a different feel than when you're moving up to Washington for that first time," Johndroe says.

A first inauguration launches a sweeping new project in America. It's the start of a new chapter — full of questions and full of potential. A second inauguration is more prosaic, says Marcia Hale, who was an assistant to President Clinton.

"You can still stop and appreciate the day for the historical significance," Hale says. "But you take that afternoon and enjoy it, and then you're back to work the next day."

A second inauguration does have its own unique magnitude, though. It's bittersweet, says Muffy Cabot, who was social secretary in the Reagan White House.

"There's a slight sense of its coming to an end. You know, this is the last chance; this is where I make my history," Cabot says.

A president going through his second inauguration knows that he will never run for office again — that the next four years will cement his legacy. And, Cabot says, for whatever reason, second inaugurations often take place under a cloud. That was true of Reagan in 1985.

"There was the Contras in Latin America," Cabot says. "They'd had the terrible Marine barracks bombing in Beirut. It was not a happy time. And it was a sober time."

President Obama is beginning his second term at a sober time, too.

The Middle East is boiling with violence and protests. The U.S. unemployment rate has been stubbornly high for years. And a divided government is wrestling with a "fiscal cliff" that economists say could drive the country into another recession if it's not resolved.

Still, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who heads the congressional committee on inaugural ceremonies, says the proceedings on Inauguration Day may not look too different from last time.

"We do pretty much the same thing. We make sure there's a platform, we're in charge of the ceremony. So there's very little difference except it's going to cost a little less; we've managed to find some savings," he says.

Schumer helped drive the first nail into the inaugural platform in late September — more than a month before the election was over. Schumer says one thing that will be different is the size of the crowds.

Nobody's expecting 1.8 million people to flood Washington the way they did last time.

"I'm finding, and many of my colleagues are finding, for instance, in requests for tickets, it's not as great as it was last time, but it's very high," Schumer says.

Another difference this year comes thanks to the calendar. Inauguration Day is Jan. 20, which falls on a Sunday. Chief Justice John Roberts will officially swear in the president at a private White House ceremony at noon that day.

Public events — a ceremonial swearing-in on the mall, the procession, the inaugural address and balls — all will take place on Monday, Jan. 21.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

 

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