Not surprisingly, Oden and other civil-rights veterans felt compelled to be there. “It was just mind-blowing,” he says. “We kept asking ourselves, is this really possible? Is this really happening?” But more surprisingly, he was joined that day by many political opponents of Obama who were also moved by such a long-awaited American milestone. Even many Republicans were swept up in the optimism after the 2008 election, hoping that Obama could make a difference. Millions of Americans bought into the notion that he was somehow above partisan politics.

Four years later, we all know better. “Now, we know he is a politician. More gifted than some, not as gifted as others, but at the end of the day, he is a politician,” said Terry Golway, director of the Kean University Center for History, Politics, and Policy in New Jersey. “He is president of the United States. He is not a secular saint.” Richard Parker, a lecturer at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, adds, “He is now a known quantity, which he wasn’t before.” Before, Obama was so new to the national scene that many weren’t sure about his leanings. Now, we know where he stands and whom he stands with. And we know that he is a Democrat, a partisan. He did not usher in a new era…

No longer do Americans believe that an outsider is going to ride in and change Washington. They have been through too many battles between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Four years ago, the combination of a Democratic president working with a Democratic Congress suggested a universe of opportunity. Conversely, today, people have no illusions about how a Democratic president and a Republican House coexist. Obama has not shown himself a master of working with a hostile Legislature. And it’s hard to cheer for gridlock. Additionally, no matter how much Obama would like to cast himself as representing change, he is the incumbent—and incumbents are the status quo. When he takes the oath, Parker says, Obama will represent “continuity and an unrealized dream.”