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A double legacy for President Obama


In an affair replete with symbolic doubles, President Barack Hussein Obama will re-take the oath of office as head of government in the United States of America on Sunday, Jan. 20,  and again on Jan. 21, which is also officially the national Martin Luther King holiday. This will be the 57th inauguration ceremony for an American president, although Mr. Obama remains the 44th president of the United States.

There have been numerous second inaugurations. President Obama, who won re-election with more than 5 million votes ahead of his opponent, and 332 electoral votes, will take the oath twice because the U.S. Constitution requires the new or re-elected president to begin his new term at noon on Jan. 20. This year that date falls on a Sunday. The official public program for the inauguration, therefore, will occur the next day.

For both ceremonies, the person chosen by President Obama to swear him in is Chief Justice John Roberts, who also did the honors twice in 2009. The chief justice flubbed the words of the oath in 2009, and the presidential committee arranged for a second, private swearing-in two days later to ensure that all procedures were duly followed properly, given the hostile political environment into which President Obama came.

Beyonce was given the honor of singing the Etta James standard, “At Last,” to the president and his wife at the primary ball after the inauguration. This second time, Beyonce has been invited to sing the National Anthem during the inauguration itself. For the second time, L.A.’s own Stevie Wonder will also contribute public performances during the inauguration ceremonies and in the Washington, D.C., community.

Other scheduled performers include Kelly Clarkson, James Taylor, Usher, Katy Perry, Smokey Robinson, Alicia Keys, Brad Paisley, Marc Anthony, the cast of “Glee,” and even though he’s not yet listed on the official program, Bruce Springsteen, in a return performance. There will be plenty of celebratory partying, one can be very sure, and in diverse rhythms and melodies.

With many standing or, if lucky, sitting for hours in the frigid temperatures in 2009, or trapped in the closed 3rd Street tunnel, there were nearly 2 million attendees at the 2009 inauguration, and there will be an expected 600,000-800,000 in attendance this time. The smaller audience will be more by design than accident, since the Joint Congressional Committee for the Presidential Inauguration Ceremonies, the official coordinating body for the inauguration, planned it that way.

There will, for example, be only two official parties or balls scheduled this time, rather than the 10 in 2009. The primary one will host 35,000-40,000 revelers in the Washington Capitol Convention Center, and the other, to be held to honor the nation’s troops overseas, is expected to host at least 4,000. That previous 2 million attendance mark made the first inauguration the largest public affair of any kind ever held in the nation’s capital. The 600,000-800,000 mark, if achieved, will still be larger than any previous presidential inauguration except President Obama’s first.

President Obama will place his left hand on two Bibles, both held by his wife Michelle, and will raise his right hand in reciting the oath of office for the 2013 inaugurals–one, the same Lincoln Bible he used in 2009, and this year the Martin Luther King Bible provided by the King family. The latter was Dr. King’s traveling Bible used in many of his lectures, including the 1963 “I Have A Dream” presentation in the capital. Previously, Harry Truman in 1949, Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, and Richard Nixon in his 1969 inauguration, also took the oath with two Bibles.

President Obama and the inauguration organizing committee will also utilize “Faith in America’s Future” as the principal theme this year, again referencing one of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, as they had done in 2009 with “A New Birth of Freedom,” which came from a line in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

For the first time in the nation’s history, a woman and a layman will present the invocation, or public prayer, for the event. That will be Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Since the 1970s, this invocation has usually been more than a mere blessing and offering of good tidings. Instead, it has more often been used as an opportunity to offer moral and spiritual advice to the nation in dealing with its many political challenges. That seems quite appropriate on MLK Day.

This year, 2013, marks both the 50-year anniversary of Medgar Evers’ assassination, and the 50-year anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, a few yards from where President Obama will again take the oath of office. It is also the 150th year since the commencement of the Emancipation Proclamation. So there will be reverential symbolism in abundance present on Jan. 21 at the second inaugural among the speeches, parades, major Washington Mall exhibition, and concerts.

On Saturday, Jan. 19, President Obama will again urge the nation to celebrate the National Day of Service in honor of Dr. King. This is a day to volunteer one’s participation in projects and collective efforts to help those who need assistance. This year, the president and his team will launch such activities in all 50 states on that day, utilizing many of those who participated on his statewide campaign staffs.

The weather in Washington, D.C., will again be cold and crisp–hopefully not wet. It was 24 degrees tops in 2009, and may be slightly warmer, perhaps in the 40s this year, according to weather forecasters.

In fact, California, including Los Angeles, may be colder on Jan. 21 than the capital. That would be a first, not a repeat, since the East Coast has always been colder than the West Coast this time of the year. President Obama, like President Kennedy before him, will probably again deliver his acceptance speech hatless and breathing frosty air.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a precedent for women and Latinos, will render the oath of office Sunday and Monday to Vice President Joe Biden. Additionally, in a position made famous by Robert Frost at John Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, and Maya Angelou in Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration with her poem  “On the Pulse of Morning,” Latino poet Richard Blanco was named the inaugural poet for Mr. Obama’s second oath of office. He is, reportedly, the first Latino, the first immigrant American, and first gay person to be provided this title.

Though planned to be a bit smaller quantity-wise, this inaugural will maintain, if not surpass, its previous grandeur, according to Coordinating Chairman Sen. Chuck Schumer (D- N.Y.). The committee has raised at least $50 million for the three days of activities, the same amount raised for 2009. There are more than 550 people on staff to make sure things are done right and the public is well served, and more than 1,300 military security personnel to keep order.

In 2009, with more people, there were no fights, flash mobs, public endangerment or unhandled emergencies. The 2013 ceremony is planned to maintain that record, Schumer said.

Regarding African American attendance at this second presidential inauguration, many attendees at the first historic ceremony, have reported that although they still love, honor and venerate President Obama as much now, if not more than before, they cannot get to Washington, D.C., this time. Many of these former travelers, interviewed on public media, are in their 70s and 80s and say simply they cannot brave another frigid adventure as they did in 2009, when the trains and buses stopped running. There was too much coordination confusion about where to go, where to stand, for how long, etc.

They are all still very, very proud of the president, and feel that he will do an even better job this second time than he did the first, and that he will leave a lasting positive legacy on American government done right. They have, collectively however, said they will watch the affair on television this time and know that Dr. King would have been very proud of him. He has been, in their words, a well-mannered, smart, erudite and altogether great representative of the best of us all. They wish, pray and hope for his continued success and progress. As he goes, so go the rest of us. And say hello to Michelle for them. She is keeping him straight, sane and connected.