WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Mall was less crowded than four years ago, and the weather not nearly so cold. But for some fans viewing President Barack Obama’s ceremonial swearing-in for a second term of office on Monday, the moment was equally intense.
“This time I felt more emotional,” said Angela Johnson of Columbia, South Carolina, who sported a heavy coat festooned with Obama pins.
Johnson, who is black, said four years ago she fretted about Obama’s safety during the inauguration of the United States’ first black president.
On Monday, she said, she felt both excitement that Obama was being sworn in on the holiday that honors the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and relief that Obama’s re-election had reaffirmed his place in history.
“I think we’re on the path to seeing the president more accepted,” Johnson said.
As Obama took the oath of office outside the U.S. Capitol, the same outward signs of passion erupted as in 2009. From the crowd, voices chanted: “Obama!” “USA!” and “Four More Years!” as spectators waved American flags.
Obama addressed a crowd estimated to be up to 700,000 people - less than half the record 1.8 million who assembled four years ago.
“This is history,” said Paula Abdul, an American singer, songwriter and television personality who strolled through the crowds near the Capitol.
“As we’re walking around, it all seems very inspiring to me,” said Abdul, who was invited by the Creative Coalition, an advocacy group supporting the U.S. entertainment industry.
Several lines in Obama’s inaugural speech brought enthusiastic cheers, especially “a decade of war is now ending,” and his calls for equal pay for women and equal rights for gays.
Some also said he projected a tone of seriousness, even world-weariness, that was not there in January 2009, before the Democratic president had spent years battling high unemployment and Republicans resisting his agenda in the U.S. Congress.
‘WE HAVE ALL GROWN UP’
“He can’t be the same Obama and neither am I the same person I was four years ago,” said Sharon Johnson, a therapist from Baltimore, who watched the proceedings from a blanket on the mall.
“Four years ago it was a childish experience because it was all so new. I think now we have all grown up,” she said.
Sharria Makeda, a legislative assistant who shared the blanket with Johnson, said: “He’s one man and he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.”
Greg Pearson, of Crystal City, Virginia, near Washington, said while Monday’s crowd was smaller than in 2009, it still exceeded the crowd in 2001 at George W. Bush’s first inauguration.
Back then, Pearson said, some people were more intent on booing outgoing President Bill Clinton than cheering Bush.
Booing erupted from some quarters on Monday. When House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, appeared on the podium, he was booed by audience members standing near the Hirshhorn Museum.
They also booed Representative Paul Ryan, the running mate of failed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Monday’s crowd included many who had missed Obama’s inauguration four years ago.
“I‘m just so happy to be here this time ... the stars were aligned,” said Rhoda Littles, a public school teacher from Detroit.
Reverend Dolly Jones of Augusta, Georgia, who said she was in her 60s, helped hold a sign proclaiming: “Pray for president and 1st lady Obama.”
“It was a rough (campaign) race, and all of that negativity ... We’re here to show our nation and the world that we’re behind this great president,” Jones said.
Some were not necessarily Obama fans but simply came to witness history. A high school class from Bradford, Arkansas, 48 strong, started planning a year ago to go to the inauguration “no matter who won,” 18-year-old Wesley Stivers said.
“I want to be a history teacher, so that ties into it ... I will tell my students in the future I wish they could have been here,” Stivers said.
Caitlin Nations, a young stay-at-home mom from Washington who came with her 15-month-old son, Jedidiah, said: “This is a day for America, not for partisanship.”
She said she did not vote for Obama, but “I feel like the office of the president demands respect.”
Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson; Writing by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Mohammad Zargham