Obama inaugural speech likely to focus on unity

Stepping into his second term, President Barack Obama Stepping into his second term, President Barack Obama took the oath of office Sunday in an intimate swearing-in ceremony in the White House's Blue Room. (Jan. 20, 2013) Photo Credit: News12

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is likely to begin his second term Monday with a plea to the American people to help him move forward on the issues of fairness and equality amid the country's political division, its fiscal crisis and international uncertainty.

In the speech he is to deliver after being ceremonially sworn in on the east steps of the Capitol, Obama will bow to tradition by speaking of continuity and unity, and reaching out to those who didn't vote for him, several experts on inaugural addresses said.

Yet on a day laden with symbolism, harking back to President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington, Obama has indicated one unifying theme will be that everybody should have a "fair shot" and equal footing in America.

With strong public approval ratings and political capital from his recent election, Obama has signaled he will also sound a populist note to advance his agenda for the next four years -- and seek the public's help to break the partisan logjam in Congress.

As he worked on his address -- writing out longhand drafts on yellow legal pads -- Obama also authorized turning the political operation that re-elected him into the nonprofit Organizing for Action, a network to raise money and build grassroots support for his agenda.

The speech Obama delivers Monday will differ from his first inaugural address four years ago, and political analysts say they have great interest in just what tone Obama intends to set for his second term.

Obama has changed over the past four years of battles with Republicans, winning some big victories, such as passage of federal health care reform, and suffering setbacks on immigration and in showdowns on fiscal matters.

In the nine weeks since his election, Obama has emerged as a more assertive, confident and even confrontational president in his dealings with congressional Republicans, said GOP strategist Michael Dawidziak of Bohemia.

Yet there's one theme from the first inaugural address Obama will avoid, said David Birdsell, dean of Baruch College's School of Public Affairs. "You are not going to talk about changing the culture in Washington, because people know you didn't do it," he said.

Still, Obama's speech isn't likely to take a partisan tone, given his signature line is "We are not a red America or a blue America, but the United States of America," said Robert Lehrman, who teaches speech writing at American University in Washington.

The White House offered a glimpse of the speech last week in a video of Obama talking about the inauguration's theme: "Our People, Our Future."

"I really believe when our people are succeeding, when they have the tools that they need to get a great education, get a good job, look after their kids, have some basic security, there's nothing that can stop America," Obama said.

He also spoke of working to secure the promise of equality, "making sure that everybody in this country has a fair shot, that if you work hard you can make it, regardless of the circumstances of your birth or what you look like or where you're from or what God you pray to."

And Obama was more explicit than he usually has been about his historical ties to Lincoln's edict on slavery and King's success in winning civil rights laws in the 1960s.

"Their actions, the movements they represented, are the only reason it's possible for me to be inaugurated," he said.

With a focus on diversity, Obama could be acknowledging how the nation's changing demographics will hold sway over the country's political future, Birdsell said.

"There is no question that America will look different and will look more like the coalition that put Obama back in office," Birdsell said. "This is the first inaugural address that addresses that constituency and tries to craft a vision of governance and of cooperation, collaboration, shared citizenship [and] nation."

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