The New York Times, Doug Mills / AP
Monday, Jan. 21, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Technically, by the time network television stations start streaming the pomp and circumstance of the presidential inauguration today, all the important stuff will already be over. President Barack Obama’s second term officially started at noon Sunday; he was sworn in then in a private ceremony. But since Rutherford B. Hayes started the tradition in 1877, when presidential inauguration day falls on a weekend, the private swearing-in gets repeated for the crowds on the next available Monday.
To give you a better sense of what you’ll see, we’ve prepared this inauguration viewers’ guide to give you a little background info on the sights, sounds and even the tastes of what will take place today on- and off-camera. We hope these liner notes, recipes and historical sidebars help you navigate this iteration of a quadrennial American tradition.
No American ceremony — or presidential appearance, for that matter — would be complete without lots and lots of stars and stripes. But when the president stands in front of the Capitol today, you may notice a few renditions of the red, white and blue that differ from the regular bunting and star-spangled banners.
Hanging from the Capitol, facing the National Mall, will be five giant flags, hanging as seen in the picture above. In the center is the official U.S. flag. On either end of the lineup are the original “Betsy Ross” flags, with a circle of 13 stars representing the 13 states. But what of the other two flags — in the second and fourth positions — with sparsely scattered squares of stars on the dark blue background? Those flags’ stars depict the number of states there were when the president’s home state joined the Union. For Obama, that’s Illinois, which on Dec. 3, 1818, became the 21st state — hence, 21 stars. Yes, we know he was born in Hawaii. But Hawaii was the last state to be admitted to the Union, so the flag in the center takes care of that, too.
Almost every president has had the opportunity to give an inaugural address. Only 16 of the 44 presidents have had the chance twice.
For a new president, the inaugural address is the first and sometimes only chance a president has to speak as the leader of every person in the United States. This is not about getting votes or stumping for a policy; it’s a moment for the leader to reflect on the country’s place in history and provide a vision for its future. First inauguration speeches are where we get lines such as “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” (John F. Kennedy) and “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (Franklin D. Roosevelt).
Second inauguration speeches are a little different. The president is not new anymore, and neither are his ideas, meaning he has a decision to make. Does he crow about his accomplishments, like Andrew Jackson did in 1833? Does he stay light on specifics and keep things open and idealistic, like Bill Clinton in 1997? Or does he take a note from Woodrow Wilson’s second inaugural address: “This is not the time for retrospect. It is time rather to speak our thoughts and purposes concerning the present and the immediate future”?
Though Obama is widely acknowledged as an excellent orator, we can’t know how Obama will seize the moment before he is in it. The president’s first inauguration was historic, but few remember the details of his first inaugural speech. But similarly, few remember Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address for much but its timing — one month before, seven states seceded from the Union. But we’re still reciting this line from the second inaugural, which also is etched on the Lincoln Memorial: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
And hey, Obama’s getting sworn in on that guy’s Bible.
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For the second time, Obama will take the oath of office on the Lincoln Bible. But that’s only partly a tradition. When presidents take the oath, they are invited to place their hands on any Bible they like. Or any two Bibles. Or no Bibles at all (Theodore Roosevelt was the only president we’re sure eschewed a Bible, doing so at his first inauguration in 1901 — he brought the one he had used to be sworn in as New York’s governor for his second presidential inauguration in 1905). Some presidents like to take the oath with their Bibles closed (as Obama did in 2009), but according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, some also open them to a particularly meaningful verse. Which leads us to a little guessing game: See whether you can match the Bible verse of choice to the president who chose it. Your options are: a) George W. Bush, b) Bill Clinton, c) Ronald Reagan, d) Jimmy Carter and e) Richard Nixon.
Quote 1: (Isaiah 2:4) “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
Quote 2: (Isaiah 40:31) “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Quote 3: (Galatians 6:8) “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
Quote 4: (Micah 6:8) “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Quote 5: (II Chronicles 7:14) “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”
Answers: 1e (both times), 2a (second time), 3b (first time), 4d, 5c (both times).
What’s a party without music? The inaugural ceremonies feature many opportunities to showcase sweet jams, ranging from the classical to the contemporary. Remember when Aretha Franklin wore that crazy hat? I mean, sang “My Country, 'Tis of Thee” at the 2009 inaugural? Well this year, that song goes to pop star Kelly Clarkson. Also, James Taylor has been scheduled to sing "America the Beautiful" and Beyonce will sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." Also gracing the stage will be the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets (the long horns that evoke images of kings and courtiers from which flags are often hung), the U.S. Marine Band, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, and choruses from Lee University in Tennessee and Staten Island Public School 22. (Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee were in charge of much of the formal planning.)
But the most important song you will hear will be one few people will be singing along to. “Hail to the Chief” is the president’s official entrance and exit music. It has been used since 1829, when it was played for Andrew Jackson, and in 1954, the Department of Defense made it the president’s official song. Still, few people know the words. EXCEPT YOU, lucky Las Vegas Sun readers, because we’re going to tell you the lyrics. Sing your hearts out.
“Hail to the chief we have chosen for the nation
Hail to the chief! We salute him one and all
Hail to the chief as we pledge cooperation
In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call
Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander
This you will do, that’s our strong firm belief
Hail to the one we selected as commander
Hail to the president! Hail to the chief!”
The president doesn’t just get his own ball and his own parade; he also gets his own poem. OK, this tradition may seem a little staid for the Las Vegas crowd — and for most presidents at that. Only Kennedy, Clinton and Obama have availed themselves of the opportunity. But some pretty weighty wordsmiths have delivered some historic verses from the inaugural stage, whether it was Maya Angelou telling Clinton in “On the Pulse of Morning” that “you may have the courage to look up and out upon me, the rock, the river, the tree, your country” or Robert Frost reminding the country that “the land was ours before we were the land” while reciting “The Gift Outright” for Kennedy’s inaugural. (Frost actually wrote a different, new poem for the day but didn’t read it because it was so cold and bright outside that the then-86-year-old poet couldn’t read it off the pages in front of him.)
For his second inaugural, Obama has invited Richard Blanco, who is Cuban-American, openly gay and named after Richard Nixon. He is most famous for his collection "City of a Hundred Fires," which won the 1997 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize.
All that speechmaking and standing in the cold sure can make a president hungry. Which is why since 1953, the Inaugural Luncheon has been a post-ceremonial part of the whole induction affair. It has been held in the National Statuary Hall, situated on the second floor of the Capitol between the Rotunda and the floor of the House of Representatives, since 1981.
This year, the assembled senators, representatives and ex-presidents will dine on a menu of lobster, bison, and since this is America, apple pie. (No word yet on the vegetarian option, which we figure must exist as we assume the Clintons are invited.) Wish you could have a taste of inaugural food? Well guess what: You can — so long as you’re willing to do a little legwork. The inaugural committee has provided recipes for everything on the menu. Some of the ingredients are a little hard to come by, but if you can track it down, you can eat like a president.
After lunch, the president and his entourage will be part of the inaugural parade, which starts at the Capitol and heads west along Pennsylvania Avenue, ending up at the White House. It’s a two-mile route, which is safely within the realm of driving distance. But ever since Carter’s 1977 inauguration, presidents are expected to walk at least part of the route.
Carter’s decision to surprise the inaugural crowds by exiting his car and opting to stroll while he waved to them became an instant, man-of-the-people symbol that subsequent presidents sought to capture. No president since Carter has walked the whole route, and Reagan didn’t walk at all. But everyone else has hopped out of their motorcade for at least a few blocks. In 2009, the Obamas did two strolls along Pennsylvania Avenue, hopping out once around Seventh Street NW, then exiting their limo again to walk the last few blocks to the White House.
While the cameras are bound to focus on the first couple, they won’t be the only thing to see. Dozens upon dozens of groups have been invited to march and perform in the parade, including one traditional Mexican dance troupe from Nevada called Comparsa Morelense. There also are eight floats. Four represent Hawaii, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Delaware — the birthplaces of the president, first lady, Vice President Joe Biden and second lady Jill Biden. The other four are dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Tuskegee Airmen, the civil rights movement and the theme of the inauguration: “Our people, our future.”
The inaugural balls
One of the first obligations of a newly sworn president is to dance. The inaugural ball, held on the night of inauguration day, is a tradition that dates to the fourth president, James Madison. (George Washington got a ball in New York a week after he was inaugurated, but that apparently doesn’t count.) By 1833, Andrew Jackson was getting fêted with two balls. And by 1841, William Henry Harrison — who served in office for 30 days before he died — was rushing around to three.
The number and themes of inaugural balls have ebbed and flowed over the years. The period of the Great Depression and the world wars was ball-less. Woodrow Wilson said balls were too ostentatious, so he did away with the tradition; Harry Truman revived it in 1949. Clinton set the record for the most official balls, with 14 in 1997. In 2009, Obama attended 10, though most remember only the Neighborhood Ball, where he and Michelle Obama (wearing a memorable Jason Wu glitter-and-white gown) had their first presidential dance to a serenade from Beyonce.
This year, the roster of official balls is down to two: the President’s Ball and the Commander-in-Chief's Ball, held for members of the armed forces. Both will take place in the Washington Convention Center in downtown D.C. And both will feature live music from as wide a range of performers as soul singer Stevie Wonder, country singer Brad Paisley, Motown legend Smokey Robinson, alternative rock icons Soundgarden, Mexican rock band Maná, Asian-American hip-hop group Far East Movement, classical/hip-hop fusion group Black Violin, pop stars Katy Perry and Fun, pop/R&B crossover stars Alicia Keys and John Legend, and members of the cast of "Glee."