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Obama's second inauguration likely won't match magic of his first

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno,Inauguration

Few presidents will come close to matching the star-studded celebration on Capitol Hill four years ago when President Obama was sworn into office -- not even Obama himself.

The 2009 inauguration captured the hearts of a nation, and more than 1 million people rushed to Washington to watch America's first black president take the oath of office. But Obama now is an incumbent president, with less luster and more gray hair, and Monday's festivities will only underscore the changes that four years can make.

In that sense, Obama is like any other president who won a second term, experts told The Washington Examiner.

"The first one was obviously much more exciting because it was his first one. It just had a different flavor," said Brad Freeman, who worked on both of President George W. Bush's inaugural committees. "You're sort of finished with the politicking because there isn't another election, and it's more relaxed."

Because of the record turnout -- some 1.8 million people -- and the hype surrounding his first, Obama's second inauguration was always doomed to be a comparably low-key swearing-in. Organizers are expecting 500,000 to 700,000 people Monday, and instead of 10 official inaugural balls, there are just two.

"With Obama especially, four years ago, the electricity level was at an all-time high. There's almost always high anticipation and energy in a first inauguration. It's like the start of a new baseball season, and you think your team can go all the way," said Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "A second inauguration is often like a second wedding. You have that hope, but it's tempered by experience."

This soaring symbolism of hope and change has also given way to the grind of politics, which will be punctuated Monday with the backdrop of a gridlocked Congress.

While second inaugural speeches are normally not memorable, Obama has an opportunity to set the tone for the next four years, said Leonard Steinhorn, a former political consultant and speechwriter, now at American University.

"He has to be able to provide through his language a path for the Republican Party to move more toward the middle," Steinhorn said. "He has to put out a welcome mat for people of all political persuasions to work together."

It's not like the party will be a dud. Though 2009 featured Bruce Springsteen, U2's Bono and an electrifying national anthem from Aretha Franklin, Monday's ceremony with James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce isn't shabby either.

"Often with the first, you have a lot of people coming to Washington to work with a sense of change. Now you have a lot of people continuing with their work," Steinhorn said. "But it's like New Yorkers with the Macy's Day Parade. People like the pageantry, they like the ceremony, they like the ritual."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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