The nation faces unsettling threats from terrorists and anxiety about the steady uptick of U.S. deaths in Iraq. There are worries about Social Security's future and stress over the cost of health care and a slow job market.
Inaugurations, though, are a time to talk about hope.
Freedom will be Mr. Bush's theme in the inaugural address he plans to give after swearing his second and final oath of office.
"We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands," says the president, in an excerpt of the speech released in advance to set the tone for the day. "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."
"America has need of idealism and courage, because we have essential work at home - the unfinished work of American freedom," Mr. Bush continues, "In a world moving toward liberty, we are determined to show the meaning and promise of liberty."
The Bush inaugural address went through 21 drafts as of Wednesday afternoon and was timed at 17 minutes. The address is intended to be inspirational, withinstead left to be spelled out in his State of the Union speech on Feb. 2.
More than a half million people are expected to gather in the snowy capital in near-freezing temperatures for Thursday's swearing-in at the West Front of the Capitol and the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Snipers were dispatched to rooftops and bomb-sniffing dogs into the streets, amid. Miles of metal barricades gave a fortress-like feel to the city, which is well acquainted with post-Sept. 11 security.
Mr. Bush is to begin Inauguration Day at a worship service at St. John's Episcopal Church near the White House. At noon, when he places his hand on a family Bible and recites the 35-word oath of office, he was to become the 16th second-term president.
The event is to be witnessed by Mr. Bush's father, the former President Bush, and his mother, Barbara Bush, along with a host of distinguished guests that included former presidents Carter and Clinton and their wives.
The oath of office will be administered by, despite the 80-year-old's frail health - he is battling thyroid cancer and must breathe through a tracheotomy tube.
It will be the fifth time Rehnquist has sworn in a president.
Speaking at an inaugural concert Wednesday on the Mall in Washington, President Bush emphasized that this is a time of unity for the country.
"With the campaign behind us, Americans lift up our sights to the years ahead and to the great goals we will achieve for our country. I am eager and ready for the work ahead," said Mr. Bush. "We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom and America will always be faithful to that cause."
Mr. Bush, 58, begins his new term with- 49 percent in an Associated Press poll this month. Iraq is the dominant concern of Americans, and Bush is the first U.S. president to be inaugurated in wartime since Richard Nixon in 1973.
President Bush has said hisinclude thwarting terrorist cells, spreading freedom and democracy - especially in the Middle East - enacting changes in the tax code and in medical liability law, and overhauling Social Security with private investment accounts. Throughout his re-election campaign, President Bush promoted what he called an "ownership society" in which he says Americans will have greater control over their lives.
On the eve of his inauguration, President Bush and first lady Laura Bush dashed around the city from another. Some revelers partied into the night, but Mr. Bush, never a fan of formal affairs, was back at the White House about 45 minutes ahead of schedule.to
Not everybody was cheering four more years of President Bush.
He is the first president since 1936 to be re-elected while his party expanded majorities in the House and Senate, yet deep divisions in the nation remain. Mr. Bush's 3 percentage point margin in the popular vote was the lowest of any incumbent president to win re-election.
Some anti-Bushites took vacations to get away from the inaugural hoopla while others flocked to Washington to give the president a symbolic snub. They plan to turn their backs on the president as his motorcade rolls down Pennsylvania Avenue.
"There are a lot of different reasons why people are participating in this action," said Jet Heiko, national organizer for the volunteer group that calls itself Turn Your Back on Bush. "Mostly, it's a lot of people who feel that George Bush has turned his back on them for a variety of reasons - Iraq, health care, Social Security, educational reform issues."
Demonstrations of all sorts are accompanying the inaugural events, including outside Wednesday night's Black Tie and Boots ball, where Texans arriving to honor the president were heckled by protesters yelling "Soldiers are dying in Iraq, enjoy the champagne!"
A myriad of other protests are planned for Inauguration Day, including: a march with coffins and a die-in (protestors lying down en masse in the streets) in opposition to the Iraq war; a rally in favor of nominating Supreme Court justices opposed to abortion; and a rally by HillaryNow.com in protest of what the group calls "the Coronation of Bush" and in support of Senator Clinton for president in 2008.
There will also be numerous "counter-inaugural" balls - for Bush opponents.