WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has been looking to historians for guidance on how to shape his second inaugural’s words into a speech for the ages, eager to make good use of his twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity to command the world’s attention.
He will take the oath of office Sunday in an intimate White House ceremony witnessed by family, and then again Monday at the Capitol before a crowd of hundreds of thousands on the National Mall. Washington will also play host to the traditional inaugural parade and formal balls Monday, as well as a day of service Saturday that kicks off the festivities.
But it’s Obama’s inaugural address that will be the centerpiece of the three-day affair. The president will seek to turn the page on a first term consumed by economic turmoil and set an optimistic tone for four more years that will help define his legacy.
The president has been working on his speech since early December, writing out draft after draft on yellow legal pads, aides say. He’s read several second-term inaugural addressed delivered by his predecessors. And last week, he invited a small group of historians to the White House to discuss the potential — and the pitfalls — of second-term inaugurals.
Heading into his speech, Obama does have history on his mind, particularly two of the great American leaders he most deeply admires, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. The start of Obama’s second term coincides with the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of King’s March on Washington, and he has chosen to take the public oath with his hand on both their bibles stacked together.
“Their actions, the movements they represented are the only reason it’s possible for me to be inaugurated,” Obama said of Lincoln and King in a video released Friday by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. “It’s also a reminder for me that this country has gone through very tough times before but we always come out on the other side.”