* Inauguration lacks the drama of 2009 transition
* 'Let us continue' not as dramatic as 'Let us begin'
* Second-term inaugurations often forgotten- historians
By Samuel P. Jacobs
WASHINGTON, Jan 18 Four years ago, his challenge
was to cut through what he called the "gathering clouds and
raging storms" of an economic recession.
When President Barack Obama gives his second inaugural
address outside the U.S. Capitol on Monday, the road ahead for
him and his presidency is no less challenging. Battles with
Republicans loom over federal spending, taxes, the government's
debt limit, gun control and immigration.
Obama is likely to save much of the details on those issues
for his State of the Union speech before Congress on Feb. 12. If
he follows the pattern of most presidents' second inaugural
addresses, Obama probably will focus on more lofty themes such
as a vision for America, as seen in the healthcare overhaul
passed during his first term.
In kicking off his second four-year term, the Democratic
president also is likely to urge Americans to make their
opinions known to Washington's divided government, as he did
this week in urging them to press Congress to back his
But in this inauguration speech, Obama will be fighting
history, former presidential speechwriters and historians say.
Second-term inaugural addresses rarely carry the drama and
excitement that accompanied the first, they said.
"'Let us continue' is never as dramatic as, 'Let us begin,'"
said Jeff Shesol, a presidential historian and former
speechwriter for President Bill Clinton.
Throughout U.S. history, second-term inaugurations largely
have been forgotten, a period of transition lacking the charge
that comes with a new president.
"On most occasions, it's little remembered," Ken Khachigian,
a former chief speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan.
That was very much the case at Reagan's second inauguration,
Frigid weather in Washington that day - it was 7 degrees
Fahrenheit - forced the ceremony indoors, and Reagan took the
oath of office in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. The weather,
not the president's speech, was the headline of the day.
A few second-term inaugural speeches have been viewed by
historians as significant - perhaps none more so than the one
delivered by Abraham Lincoln in 1865, about nine weeks before
the end of the Civil War and six weeks before Lincoln was
The speech's final lines, in which Lincoln called for "a
lasting peace," are now being played in movie theaters across
the United States in the film, "Lincoln."
SMALLER AUDIENCE LIKELY
In Washington, city officials are expecting up to 800,000
people to come to Obama's second inauguration, compared with the
estimated 1.8 million who saw him sworn in four years ago as the
nation's first black president.
Among inaugurations in the past three decades, the
television audience for the 2009 festivities was topped only by
that for Reagan's first inaugural speech in 1981, when there
were considerably fewer viewing options, according to Nielsen,
which calculates TV ratings.
The two smallest television audiences for inaugural speeches
since then were both for presidents entering their second term:
George W. Bush's address in 2005, and Bill Clinton's in 1997.
Bush's 2005 speech attracted about half the TV viewership he
drew for his first inaugural speech in 2001.
White House officials declined to discuss the details of
Obama's upcoming speech. During his first inaugural speech,
Obama called upon the legacy of the nation's first president,
George Washington, praising the general for leading a nascent
country out of the Revolutionary War against Great Britain.
"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves
off and begin again the work of remaking America," Obama said
then, a theme that, in his 2012 campaign, evolved into an
emphasis on rebuilding the nation's middle class.
Obama was a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2004 when he
burst onto the national political scene with his keynote address
at the Democratic National Convention.
"There's not a liberal America and a conservative America;
there's the United States of America," Obama said then. "There's
not a black America and white America and Latino America and
Asian America; there's the United States of America."
That kind of soaring rhetoric helped propel Obama to the
White House four years later - and, perhaps, set the stage for
disappointment among some supporters once he became president.
Some analysts say Obama's speeches as president have not always
matched his reputation as an inspirational speaker.
Whatever Obama says on Monday, some observers in Washington
believe he might already have given his best speech after the
2012 election: His emotional address on Dec. 16, at a memorial
service for the 20 children and six adults killed in a mass
shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.
Name by name, Obama recounted the victims and vowed to seek
changes in gun laws, an issue that had not been atop his agenda
during his first term.
"We can't tolerate this anymore," he said of mass shootings
like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School. "We are not doing
enough and we will have to change."
Obama biographer David Maraniss likened the speech to
Obama's "Gettysburg," Lincoln's historic battlefield address
during the Civil War.
In a message on Twitter, Maraniss said that "people will
long remember what Barack Obama said in Newtown."