Obama Takes Stand on Climate in Inaugural Speech
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
President Barack Obama holds a meeting in the Situation Room of the White House, Dec. 7, 2012.
President Barack Obama was sworn in today for the second time in as many days for his second term in the Oval Office. In a slight twist on tradition, Obama was sworn in today using two Bibles, one belonging to Abraham Lincoln and the other once owned by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Every inauguration brings with it its own take on traditions depending on the officeholder or the circumstances of the swearing in. In this slideshow, explore some of the most memorable moments in inauguration history.
During Obama's first inauguration in front of a record-breaking crowd for such an event, the Chief Justice John Roberts, who administers the oath of office, misplaced a word in the oath. According to Section 1 of the Second Article of the U.S. Constitution, the words any president has to say to assume the office are as follows: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Roberts misplaced the word "faithfully." In an effort to prevent theories that Obama hadn't legally been sworn into office, the Chief Justice readministered the oath in the White House using the correct wording. Given that President was sworn in twice in 2009 and twice in 2013, Obama has in total taken the oath of office four times. Only Franklin D. Roosevelt has taken the oath as many times.
On the night a president is sworn into office, they celebrate with a series of inaugural balls to commemorate the event and celebrate the efforts of all the people that helped bring the politician into office. In 1993, at a number of the inaugural balls, Clinton appeared on stage toting his saxophone and played for the crowd. Clinton jammed with Ben E. King, Herbert Hancock and Thelonius Monk at different events.
On the 200th anniversary of the presidency, George H.W. Bush took the oath of office and acknowelded the historic event by placing his hand on the same Bible that George Washington used two centuries earlier to be sworn in as the first President of the United States.
Any president just being sworn into office is bound to want to hit the ground running in ticking off their top policy priorities as soon as the inauguration is over. Few though can claim a political victory of sorts moments within minutes of taking the oath. Shortly after President Ronald Reagan was sworn into office in 1981, 52 American hostages that had been held in Iran for a year and a half were released. The crisis contributed to Jimmy Carter failing to secure a second term in office.
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President Abraham Lincoln has what might be the most famous inaugural address in history after he took the oath of office for his second term. In his speech, coming as the Civil War was winding down, Lincoln said, "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."
Although Lincoln might have the most famous speech in inaugural history, his successor Andrew Johnson might have given the most unmoored speech in history. In what is supposed to be an apolitical event that lays out the agenda of the incumbent for the next for years, Johnson's address was considered listless, incomphrensible and even foolish by his peers. A lot of that might be due to the manner in which Johnson prepared for the event, by downing glass after glass of whiskey.
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Of any president in history, William Henry Harrison holds two records that are related. He has given the longest address in inaugural history at 8,445 words. He is also the most inconsequential president in history having caught pneumonia and died a month in into office. George Washington, by contrast, in a speech ahead of his second term in office only spoke 135 words, and look at how well he's remembered.
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Tradition holds that every president swear the oath of office on a Bible. In some instances, as was the case this year as well as for the swearing-in of president George H.W. Bush, some presidents elect to take the oath using two Bible. Whether this was the case in the early years of the Republic though is unclear. John Quincy Adams swore the oath on a book of laws, rather than a Bible. According to his own account, Adams eschewed using a Bible because he did not want to mix religion and politics.
President Barack Obama discussed the need to act on climate change in his inauguration address, highlighting previously stated intentions to make the issue a priority in his second term.
In his speech, Obama tied failure to respond to climate change with a betrayal of future generations.
"Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms," he said yesterday (Jan. 21). "The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it."
Obama went on to cast green technology in a positive light, arguing that America "must claim its promise." The message resonated with climate scientists and environmental groups.
"I was reassured to see him reaffirm that facts matter, and that the science overwhelmingly indicates that climate change is not only real, but is already posing a serious threat to society," Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, told LiveScience. However, Mann said, the details of Obama's climate policy still need to be fleshed out. (The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted)
Climate at the inauguration
Obama's mention of the c-word is not the first time climate has made an appearance in an inaugural speech, but presidents rarely use the occasion to discuss the environment. In 2010, Obama made a passing reference to rolling back "the specter of a warming planet." Former President Bill Clinton made one reference apiece to the need for a clean environment in his 1993 and 1997 inaugural speeches, but did not specifically mention global warming.
This year's reference was much more extended than that in Obama's first-term speech.
"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity," Obama said. "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations."
Will there be action?
Environmental groups praised Obama's words and used the opportunity to push for policy action.
"He did a good job laying out a narrative about climate change and why we should all care about taking meaningful action," said Travis Franck, a policy analyst for the nongovernmental organization Climate Interactive. "It will affect our children and grandchildren in many ways: their economic opportunities, their health, their safety from disasters, their recreation activities, and their sense of pride in America and its place in the world."
But the action Obama intends to take remains unknown. Climate experts say that sweeping policies are unlikely to make it through Congress in Obama's second term. The president does have some leeway to make regulatory changes via executive action.
"It would have been much more encouraging if he went on to say that he would put the power of his office into the fight to get the country onto a sustainable energy path, by working for regulations and legislation that would incentivize energy efficiency and the transition to clean energy and make the burning of fossil fuels less attractive," Elizabeth Sawin, the co-director of Climate Interactive, told LiveScience.
"Citizens who care about clean energy and a livable planet are going to need to continue to organize and pressure elected officials, including the president, if we want to see concrete action and climate-protecting policy coming from Washington," Sawin said.
More from LiveScience:
8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World
The 10 Weirdest Inaugurations in US History
Ice World: Gallery of Awe-Inspiring Glaciers
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