President Barack Obama went right to the cornerstone ideal of the United States of America when he highlighted and quoted the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Dinesh D’Souza and other right-wing ideologues keep looking for a Kenyan Revolutionary among Barack Obama’s greatest influences while all the time it was and remains Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln made the words of the Declaration quoted here his central creed in life. So has President Obama.
The Second Inaugural speech used this touchstone of American exceptionalism and paired it with the twin ideas that “we the people” must act together for the common good of the nation and that to continue the journey of the Founders to perfect the democratic experiment we have matters of investing in our future along with matters of equity to improve upon before this journey is complete.
In a reference to the Second Lincoln Inaugural the President said “through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword we learned that no Union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew and vowed to move forward together.”
This notion of moving forward and the repetition of “Together” three times Obama noted we need to rebuild the nation’s physical and human infrastructure, that a free market can’t thrive without rules to ensure fair competition—an idea that Progressives of the last century like Roosevelt and Wilson would have been comfortable with, and that “a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.”
The President struck a balance early in the address when he said “the Patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.”
Pundits will crow loudly in both directions about the Presidents call for full equality for Gay and Lesbian people, addressing climate change, his insistence that so-called “entitlement” social programs ought not sacrifice that made the modern America we know today and to throw away the future that social investment in that future, a part of the “journey” theme the President returned to several times in the speech.
In Foreign Policy, the President hued to a distinct anti Neo-Con theme by eschewing “perpetual war” and suggesting that just like our former World War II enemies, our present ones might eventually via diplomatic efforts become friends. This non-military approach to the next four years is likely to be an increasing flash point for partisan politics as the nation moves out of Afghanistan. He did add that we are not naïve about the threats we face and meeting them with armed force if necessary.
The President indicated that the nation’s ability to respond to future challenges and to protect individual freedom counter intuitively requires “collective action.”
The voice of the President was particularly insistent as he warmed to his theme in the middle of the speech when he said we had unlimited possibilities to realize our collective future as a people, “my fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it—so long as we seize it together.”
This was a far better than average inaugural speech for a first or second term president. It is likely to rank in the elite class of speeches due to its classic structure and reliance on such central American themes.
Struggles for Justice fully supports what the President had to say. It is the right tone and the right direction to take the nation in the next four years.
Obstructionist Republicans are yet again being invited in to “together” meet the new challenges the nation faces over the next four years. It really is up to the Republican leadership and rank-in-file members of Congress here. Despite their repeated complaints that the President must lead first we note he did that today and has been doing this for a good long time now. When your political opponents run away from you and commit themselves only to opposing your every act very little will be achieved. The American people know that the Republicans especially in the House of Representatives have blocked any progress and the gridlock is laid firmly at their feet.
There is a lot of room for getting things done. Republicans are ready for some significant reform on immigration. They are going to have to do something meaningful on gun safety—too many Americans are demanding that. And they will need to be open to re-investment in the nation’s physical and human resources.
For the President he did say that significant deficit reduction and a reform of the tax code are on his agenda. The Republicans now can and should hold his feet to the fire on both of those. The President will be only too glad to meet them here if they compromise elsewhere.
America is continuing on her journey to support the “all men are created equal” principle that means that all humanity—no matter how humble, is entitled by God to an equal chance in life to be what they fully are made to be.