William Jefferson Clinton took the oath of the nation's highest office for the second time Monday and described his dreams for a "land of New Promise" unified across race and party.
In a day of solemn ceremony, soaring hymns and joyous celebration, Clinton used the occasion of the Martin Luther King national holiday to reaffirm his commitment to erase the prejudices the slain civil-rights leader fought.
"The divide of race has been America's constant curse. Each new wave of immigrants gives new targets to old prejudices," Clinton told his audience outside the Capitol.
"We cannot _ we will not _ succumb to the dark impulses that lurk in the far regions of the soul, everywhere. We shall overcome them and we shall replace them with the generous spirit of a people who feel at home with one another."
Moments earlier, Clinton and Vice President Al Gore took their oaths in a simple ceremony on the west side of the Capitol. The moment of majesty was the 53rd inaugural in U.S. history.
Behind Clinton and Gore, five massive American flags were draped from the classic white Capitol. Along side them sat the most powerful men and women of the government, from Supreme Court justices in black robes to members of Congress bundled in top coats and hats against the 40-degree weather; Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., wore a homburg. On the Mall below, a crowd of 250,000 gathered to toast the first Democratic president to win re-election since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936.
The mid-day inaugurations were followed by a luncheon of seafood pie and beef a la mode for the Clintons, the Gores and congressional leaders. They emerged to join a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Later, they would attend 14 star-studded balls that lasted well past midnight.
Throughout the day, Clinton touched on the poignant intersection of the King holiday, his belief that the nation is on the verge of a newly shaped democracy for a new century, and the unfinished work of his administration.
And this, too: political realities. Just under 50 percent of the voters cast their ballots for him. They returned a Republican-run Congress to power in the same swoop. So Clinton sees no margin in partisan bickering and he drew on the words of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.
"It is wrong to waste the precious gift of time on acrimony and division," Clinton recalled the Catholic leader saying as death approached.
"Fellow citizens, we must not waste the precious gift of this time, for all of us are on that same journey of our lives," Clinton said. "And our journey too will come to an end, but the journey of our America must go on."
He said the United States must shape the rushing technological and global changes to build a better country.
"We must keep our old democracy forever young," Clinton said. "Guided by the ancient vision of a promised land, let us set our sights upon a land of new promise."
In Clinton's vision, it is a land of opportunity for all. Higher education will be available to all. The streets will be safe, parents will have more time with their kids, and the underclass will become the middle class.
Before Clinton spoke, the crowd was entertained by swaying gospel singers and the Marine Band, which played old patriotic favorites such as You're a Grand Old Flag.
About 11:30 a.m., the introductions began to the sound of trumpets. First came Tipper Gore, then first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the vice president. Then, came the headliner:
"Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States of America, William Jefferson Clinton."
A few rays of sun began to peak out. Clinton waved to the crowd. An American flag flapped in the wind halfway up the Capitol. The Rev. Billy Graham, his pride undiminished by the cane that bore some of his weight, offered a prayer of humility; it was his eighth inaugural.
Then, Gore took his oath, administered by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She wished him luck, the crowd enjoyed a stirring medley of hymns capped by Amazing Grace, and the chief justice of the United States spoke to the president.
"Are you ready to take the oath, Mr. President?" William Rehnquist asked.
"I am, sir," Clinton replied.
The president rested his hand on his King James Bible, opened to Isaiah 58:12, which reads in part ". . . thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the paths to dwell in."
It was over in seconds. "Good luck," Rehnquist said. Clinton hugged Mrs. Clinton, who sighed, and he kissed his daughter's forehead. Together, the first family soaked in the cheers of the crowd.
The day begins in church
The Clintons and the Gores started their day with a National Prayer Service at Metropolitan AME church, a historic house of worship in the middle of downtown Washington. Clinton attended a similar prayer service at the predominantly black church on his 1993 Inauguration Day.
Gore's entourage arrived first, the sirens of his escort echoing through the city's canyons of buildings about 7:30 a.m. A few minutes later came the president, Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea, rolling up quietly in a sleek black limousine.
At the service, the Rev. Jesse Jackson gave King credit for creating a society where two sons of the South could hold the nation's highest offices. Then Jackson spoke of how Clinton got there.
"You won the barrios. You won the farmworkers. They empowered you to empower them and the nation," Jackson said.
Jackson beseeched the first lady to return to her campaign for national health care. He urged the president to ignore the "moral midgets" who would stop his administration from helping the poor.
Clinton sang along during the numerous hymns, leaning forward with a big grin as Jennifer Holliday belted out Amazing Grace.
Unity in the Capitol
The day of unity continued after Clinton's speech, as well, at the president's traditional luncheon with congressional leaders in Statuary Hall in the Capitol.
"I believe," he said, "that the only problems we've never solved in America are the problems of the heart, particularly relating to race. We get better at them, but we've never quite gotten over it."
The seating arrangements encouraged bipartisanship. House Speaker Newt Gingrich _ his fiery persona cooled by ethics troubles _ sat between Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Gore. Sixteen-year-old Chelsea Clinton sat next to 94-year-old South Carolina GOP Sen. Strom Thurmond.
Gingrich encouraged the bipartisanship: "While we may disagree about some things, here you are among friends."
Clinton told the gathering that he "meant very much what I said about the bipartisan nature of our common task. And tomorrow we will start to work on it."
But first, he went to the inaugural balls. All 14 were on his schedule.
Here is the text of Miller Williams'inaugural poem:
We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.
But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands _ oh, rarely in a row _
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.
Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become _
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.
All this in the hands of children, eyes already set
on a land we never can visit _ it isn't there yet _
but looking through their eyes, we can see
what our long gift to them may come to be.
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.