- The Washington Times
Monday, January 21, 2013

President Obama’s historic inauguration ceremony Monday saw smaller crowds, a more subdued tone, and fewer A-list celebrities than in 2009 — a distinctly different feel from the packed subways, soaring rhetoric and nearly dozen inaugural balls four years ago.

The fervor behind his 2008 election has simmered somewhat after four years of a sluggish economy, persistent overseas tumult and the most expensive presidential campaign in American history.

“We’ve come a long way as a country, but we have a lot of work to do,” said Lynise Trace, 54, of Kissimmee, Fla., who nevertheless called Mr. Obama’s inaugural address “fantastic.”

Ms. Trace came to Washington with a group of 500 from Florida, and crowd estimates ranged from more than 800,000 from the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency to at least 1 million from an inaugural officials — still well short of the estimated 1.8 million people that braved the cold in 2009. But the crowd still likely surpassed the totals of the second inaugurals for the most recent two-term commanders-in-chief, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. And before 2008, the previous high was an estimated 1.2 million for President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965.

Still, Metro ridership was mirroring the same downward trend. About 657,000 people had entered the system by early evening — slightly more than two-thirds of the corresponding 2009 levels.

And bowing to possible donor fatigue after a presidential campaign that cost around $2 billion, Mr. Obama’s inauguration committee reversed course this year and accepted money from unions and corporations willing to pick up the tab for inauguration-related festivities. In 2009, with donations capped at $50,000 apiece, organizers still raised more than $50 million to help offset the inaugural costs.

As one might expect from people who did attend, however, enthusiasm was still high Monday.

Seventy-five-year-old Luriedeen Robertson from Columbia, S.C. attended Mr. Obama’s first inauguration — but said she still had to be there for the second.

“I’m here because this is history for me and I most likely won’t be able to experience something like this again,” she said, pausing to think when asked which inaugural meant more to her. “That one was more important than ever, but this one is as well.”

To be sure, many celebrities were on hand for the festivities. Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles — the first couple of hip-hop — were among the many attendees seated just in front of the platform where Mr. Obama was ceremonially sworn in. Folk singer James Taylor and a giddy Kelly Clarkson both performed at the ceremony, and Alicia Keys, Katy Perry and Marc Antony were among the performers at inaugural events over the weekend.

But many big-ticket celebrities who attended in 2008 also took a pass this time around. Ms. Knowles replaced Aretha Franklin as the national anthem singer. Absent as well were Jon Bon Jovi, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey — all big-time supporters of Mr. Obama.

The number of official presidential balls was also cut from 10 to two this time around: the invitation-only Commander-in-Chief’s Ball and the official Inaugural Ball, which quickly sold out.

Even Sasha Obama, the president’s younger daughter, slapped Mr. Obama with a backhanded compliment — “you didn’t mess up” — after he successfully completed the official swearing-in ceremony on Sunday.

She was less subtle during her father’s inaugural address Monday, getting caught on camera in the middle of a giant yawn.

• David R. Sands contributed to this report.

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