Forget about deja vu or old hat as Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was sworn in again. For some in the sea of humanity watching, cheering and shivering, the repeat was even sweeter.
Yes, the crowd was smaller and the number of inaugural celebratory balls was slashed. Obama will be a lameduck president, barred from seeking a third term. Compared to 2009, even the January cold that tested the mettle of Obama fans was less intense.
Still, for the crowd that roared when Obama stepped onto the VIP podium on the steps of Congress Monday under overcast skies, one message was clear: his first win back in 2008 was not just some fleeting blip or anomaly amid a long stream of white presidents.
“I am very excited. I feel like the second time around is better,” said Jessica Austin of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who traveled to Washington for the inauguration.
“It is worth even more, that he did it again,” said Austin, an African-American, like a clear majority of the crowd.
Indeed, said 25-year-old Washington, DC law student Max Etin, who is white, this time may be less frenzied in terms of enthusiasm but the deeper significance of Obama’s win last November speaks volumes.
“I think is it still exciting for some people to show it wasn’t like a fluke, you know? That really America is behind him and America is a changing country and he kind of embodies that,” said Etin.
A festive atmosphere engulfed the city, one often given to snotty political bickering but owned utterly for a day by the Obama buzz.
From the steps of the Capitol, atop of which the majestic white dome stood out against the gray, low-hanging sky, a vast crowd resembling a speckled, colorful carpet of hundreds of thousands spilled out along the huge green lawn known as the Mall.
Nearby, a lone saxophone player played Dave Brubeck music. Picnics were eaten. Boys scouts squatted on the grass to munch on box lunches. One woman, wrapped in a red plaid blanket and leaning against a tree, hugged a concealed bump that was almost certainly a child.
After the inauguration, Obama had lunch in the Capitol with congressional leaders and was later to take a slow ride down Pennsylvania Avenue, home to the White House, before viewing the official inaugural parade from VIP stands.
Earlier arrivals at nearby Lafayette Square were bundled up in puffy jackets or wool coats. Some of the crowd shouted “We will rock you!”
Back at Capitol Hill, people ran in place to keep warm as they watched large screen TVs showing the arrival of politicians to the VIP podium on high, cheering ones they liked and booing some others.
Etching their taste of history in digital memory, people posed for photos holding their inaugural admission ticket — green, yellow, orange or other colors depending on where they were assigned to stand — with the Capitol as the backdrop.
The wardrobe protecting against the damp cold was as varied as the crowd, from full-length fur coats to clusters of college students wearing bright yellow inaugural hoodies to goofy panda-head hats.
At one point, as a motorcade sped by on its way up Capitol Hill, people whooped, believing it was Obama, the man himself. Nobody knew for sure.
Still, one lady shouted out, and drew laughter: “There he is, there is my baby.”
Justin Mausel, a 35-year-old government employee, agreed that even if the electricity that was in the air four years ago — he attended — wasn’t there this time, or at least not as patently crackling, this was huge stuff: America’s first African-American president, re-elected, wiping away any question of legitimacy.
“I think it is just as historic,” he said, his 16-month son Mijan squirming in a harness on his chest. “It is still very exciting.”
Austin, the Alabama advertising employee, said there was also a sort of bittersweet element to it all, as if it were the start of a farewell. She and others wondered aloud when there might ever be another African-American president.
But at the same time, she said, it is a chance for Obama — his plate full with a sputtering economic recovery and looming international crises — to get things done, and better.
“It is the beginning of a goodbye, and hopefully we can do better the second time around. It is the second chance to start over.”