Inauguration: A special dress ends a big day

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US President Barack Obama bows as he and  First Lady Michelle Obama get ready to dance, Inaugural Ball, 57th Presidential Inauguration, Washington DC (AP Photo)

US President Barack Obama bows as he and First Lady Michelle Obama get ready to dance, Inaugural Ball, 57th Presidential Inauguration, Washington DC (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — AP journalists fanned out across the capital to cover Inauguration Day as part of a running feed of content and analysis. Here are their reports.

A NEW CHAPTER

AP National Political Editor Liz Sidoti closes Inauguration Watch by summing up the day’s events and what they might mean.

No, this wasn’t the euphoric celebration of 2009 that mesmerized a hungry nation clinging to promises of hope and change. Those times are long past.

But the inauguration of 2013 was history-making in its own right. It opened a new chapter in America’s story — and Obama’s, too.

We saw a confident president again promise to lead the nation. Only this time, as he took the oath of office, he was speaking to a country filled with fear and anxiety. Many Americans worry that we are in a state of perpetual decline. Many despise the fact that our politics have become so polarized and partisan. And many fear the country will slide back into recession because of it.

We saw Republicans — for one day, at least — choose not to fight with the president. Rather, they joined him in celebrating — through, gritted teeth, perhaps — this uniquely American day.

We saw Vice President Joe Biden take his turn at glad-handing the parade crowd, sharing the spotlight with the president and, perhaps, setting the stage for his own presidential run in 2016.

We saw Michelle Obama look radiant in a custom-made Jason Wu gown to the inauguration balls. The ruby-colored, velvet and chiffon evening dress was her final outfit of a day that began with her in a Thom Browne navy-silk, checkered-patterned coat and dress. And her new hairstyle: bangs or, as they are often called today, fringes.

We saw Malia Obama, 14, and Sasha, 11, at turns poised and playful as they embarked on their dad’s second term as young ladies, the bulk of their childhoods now behind them.

We saw only half as many people show up to see Obama’s inaugural address as in 2009. Somewhere between 800,000 and 1 million came to National Mall, compared with 1.8 million four years ago. We saw Washington turn into Hollywood and a music mecca, for a few hours at least as celebrities swarmed the city. We saw that it’s possible to hold an inauguration in above-freezing temperatures, an anomaly for January in Washington.

And we saw that even in the most divisive of times, even amid the harshest of words, the house that our founding fathers built more than two centuries ago still stands tall, no matter what kind of politics the moment might hold.

— Liz Sidoti

CALLING THE PARENTS

Designer Jason Wu, who designed Michelle Obama’s red halter gown as well as the white one she wore four years ago, spent recent minutes playing trying to reach his parents in Taiwan to share his news. “They’re in two different places right now, so it’s been phone tag.”

— Samantha Critchell 

DRESS DESIGNER: ‘CAN’T BELIEVE IT’

AP Fashion Writer Samatha Critchell has just filed this dispatch about The Dress:

Michelle Obama made it a fashion tradition tonight, wearing a custom-made Jason Wu gown to the inauguration balls. The ruby-colored dress was a follow-up to the white gown Wu made for her four years ago when she was new to Washington, the pomp and circumstance and the fashion press.

She now emerged in velvet and chiffon as a bona fide trendsetter.

“I can’t believe it. It’s crazy,” says Wu, reached at his Manhattan studio. “To have done it once was already the experience of my life. To have a second time is tremendous.”

The red halter dress was the only one Wu, who went from fashion insider to household name on this night in 2009, submitted for Mrs. Obama’s consideration. He collaborated with jeweler Kimberly McDonald on the jeweled neckline. “For this occasion,” says Wu, “it had to be real diamonds.”

— Samantha Critchell 

WE ARE YOUNG

The crowd at the official Inaugural Ball appeared somewhat dazed, even bored, as they awaited the president and first lady’s arrival.

All that changed when the band fun. broke out into a song they knew by heart. Camera phones in the air, they joined in:

“Tonight, we are young. So let’s set the world on fire…”

In unison they sang, until the last verse, when the lead singer’s mic cut out. Then it was just the guests filling the massive convention center with the youthful chorus.

— Josh Lederman 

A SONG HE KNOWS

Jennifer Hudson showed them how it’s done at the Commander in Chief’s Ball tonight. President Barack Obama danced with first lady Michelle Obama as Hudson cut loose with a rousing rendition of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”

That song and Obama are not strangers.

The last time Obama met that song in public was a year ago, at a fundraiser at New York’s famed Apollo Theater. He crooned a few bars, to the delight of the crowd. Then he joked he’d survived the Sandman — a reference to Sandman Sims, the tap dancer who chased unpopular acts offstage at the Apollo for decades.

— Michele Salcedo

MAY I HAVE THIS DANCE?

Barack Obama stood on the stage of the Commander-in-Chief Ball and spoke of the woman he loved. “I’ve got a date with me here,” he said. “She inspires me every day. She makes me a better man and a better president. The fact that she is so devoted to taking care of our troops and our military families is just one more sign of her extraordinary love and grace and strength. I’m just lucky to have her.”

Then Michelle Obama emerged, resplendent, and joined him for a dance to “Let’s Stay Together,” performed by Jennifer Hudson. The president held her cheek to cheek and she whispered to him and sang along.

The First Lady is wearing a custom Jason Wu ruby colored chiffon and velvet gown with a handmade diamond embellished ring by jewelry designer Kimberly McDonald. She is wearing shoes designed by Jimmy Choo. At the end of the inaugural festivities, the outfit and accompanying accessories will go to the National Archives.

As for what you’re probably waiting for, stay tuned to this space for the upcoming photo of the first lady. Oh, yes, and that guy who’s the president of the United States.

— Josh Lederman 

‘CHANGE THE LANGUAGE’

“I loved it. Especially when the president talked about ending the name-calling. We need to change the language we use.” — Patricia Cooper, 51, of Upper Marlboro, Md. who teaches technology in the Washington, D.C., schools.

— Jocelyn Noveck 

DRESSED UP

“Let me begin by just sayin’, you all dress up pretty nice.” — Barack Obama, at the Commander-in-Chief Ball just now.

SPECIAL BIBLE

As the nation observed both Martin Luther King Day and Barack Obama’s second inaugural, the president left his mark on an artifact with deep significance for the civil rights movement.

After Obama was sworn in at the Capitol, the president and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts inscribed the King family Bible. That’s according to a White House official, who says the King family requested the inscription.

— Josh Lederman

‘NOT MY PRESIDENT’

John Diamond of Arlington, Va., spent part of the day handing out fliers inviting people to a “disinauguration ball” as people exited the inauguration ceremony.

“Not my president,” said the fliers, which featured the classic Obama “O” logo as part of the word “not.” They were inviting people to an event in Virginia later today.

Diamond, who didn’t vote in this past election, says he wants to encourage peace and opposes the drone attacks the president has authorized.

“We’re just out here celebrating freedom,” Diamond said, “and trying to get people to think about the fact that we don’t need violence to control people or dictate the behaviors of other people and we should start looking for alternatives.”

— Jessica Gresko 

MANY PATHS TO HAPPINESS

Sally Buzbee, AP’s Washington bureau chief, unpacks one piece of President Barack Obama’s inaugural address.

I’m not like you. You’re not like her. She’s not like him. Yeah, so what? We can — must — still find common ground.

That was the point of the somewhat subtle argument used today by President Barack Obama to make a basic point: Government officials shoulder a responsibility to take action and solve problems, even if they disagree on some basic beliefs.

“Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life,” the president asserted in his inaugural address. “It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness.”

But, he said, even if Americans can’t settle “centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time,” officials do have the responsibility to take action to try to make progress on the immediate problems the country faces.

The idea that liberty can be defined in different ways and that there are different paths to happiness has particular resonance, of course, in a country that is becoming ever more diverse. Polls show that increasing diversity makes some Americans uncomfortable.

But beyond that sweeping philosophical point, the president’s argument also had a clear, pragmatic — and more immediate — political purpose: to unite people who are deeply dug in on their beliefs and harness their energy to seek common ground and practical solutions.

“For now, decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle,” the president said. It’s a highly relevant point for a president who must will spend the next several years trying to seek compromise with politicians who believe things quite different than he does.

— By Sally Buzbee

HALF A LOAF

President Barack Obama is fond of saying: “We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” His point: sometimes we have to settle for half a loaf.

Well, that’s what he got in Washington today during his second inauguration — in attendance, that is.

Turnout was “definitely above 800,000″ and possibly up to 1 million people, according to Chris Geldart, who directs the District of Columbia’s homeland security and emergency management agency. That estimate is based on aerial views of how the crowd filled sections of the mall.

That’s about half of the 1.8 million people who showed up for Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.

— Liz Sidoti 

ON CLIMATE

A look at the issues that those who govern the country will face during Barack Obama’s second term. Up now: the climate.

President Barack Obama is picking a fresh fight on climate change, saying in his inaugural address that a failure to act to curb it would betray future generations. He’s hoping to tackle the issue — and live up to his prediction during the 2008 campaign that he would. But addressing the matter will be difficult.

The president has acknowledged that climate change was pushed to the back burner during his first term while he dealt with wrenching economic challenges and spent much of his political capital on reforming health care. But now he appears to be trying to make the case for action by pointing to the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, annual wildfires and droughts rivaling the Dust Bowl.

Says Obama: “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.”

Even amid the natural disasters, any attempt to respond to global warming faces a daunting prospect in Congress, where legislation narrowly cleared the House in 2009 but died in the Senate. Republicans control the House now and many Democrats in the Senate view the issue with suspicion — especially about a half-dozen Senate Democrats facing re-election next year who represent states carried by Republican Mitt Romney.

When Obama won enough support in the Democratic primaries to secure the 2008 Democratic nomination, he said future generations would look back at that night as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Heading into his second term, one of the main questions is whether he meets that test.

— Ken Thomas 

AMERICAN SONGBAG

It was at 6:31 p.m. tonight, just before the inaugural parade ended, that the bagpipers passed the president’s reviewing stand playing their oddly compelling medley of “America, the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.” One wonders whether Irving Berlin ever considered what it would be like to hear his famous song in bagpipe.

Barack Obama began the second term of his presidency today in many ways. You could say he began it leading a fractious nation (many did). You could say he began it with daunting tasks at hand (certainly true). Or you could say, quite accurately, that he began his second four years as leader of the free world by spending quite a bit of time listening to unusual and diverse versions of American musical standards.

The works of John Philip Sousa, who was born on Capitol Hill in 1854, turned up more than once, and one wonders how many people these days can identify “Stars and Stripes Forever” (1896) anymore. “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” (1831) made several appearances, too, with few people perhaps considering that it shares a melody with Britain’s “God Save the Queen.”

This after some high-ticket performers tried their hands. James Taylor pulled off a very affecting “America the Beautiful” (first published in 1910). Kelly Clarkson chimed in with an offbeat “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” And Beyonce belting out “The Star-Spangled Banner”? Electric.

The inevitable “Hail to the Chief,” of course, which was first used for the president in the early 1800s, popped up regularly through the day, and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (1861) echoed through the streets of Washington more than once as well. If you were watching and listening, you heard the best of the American songbag presented in ways as varied and diverse as America itself. Exciting stuff.

Too bad the parade’s over, though. A few more minutes and who knows? We might have been treated to Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” — on the Australian didgeridoo.

— Ted Anthony 

DEFICITS AND DECISIONS

A look at the issues that those who govern the country will face during Barack Obama’s second term. Up now: the deficit.

President Barack Obama devotes one word — “deficit” — to the issue that brought Washington to the brink of fiscal crises time and again during his first term.

But it’s the paragraph that follows in his inaugural address that foreshadows what’s to come: more hard bargaining and more last-minute deals driven by a conviction that he wields an upper hand.

“We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” he says. “The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

This was the language of his re-election campaign. And while his address contained no reference to either political party, his pointed rejection of “a nation of takers” was an implicit reminder of the ill-timed surfacing of Mitt Romney’s declaration that Obama’s support came from the 47 percent of American voters “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

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