The President’s Inaugural Address lays out a poetic hint of an agenda, with a touch of reality


For the most part, I liked the president’s Inaugural Address. It was different from his first inaugural address, where he talked about ending the divisiveness in Washington, the basis for real hope and change.

And then, we ended up with four years of divisive rancor.

This second term address was more realistic. And interlaced with the poetic rhetoric, there was more than a hint of a real agenda.

So the words were there. But memorable lines?  An “I have a dream”?  No, the speech just never soared to that level.

Maybe it’s because the words were delivered in what I call “Obama cool.” It didn’t have the passion of an “I have a dream.”

But it was certainly  more than, “I have a list.”

It was in keeping with the overall solemn tone of the event.

There was an appeal for unity:

My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together. 

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.  We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. 

The middle class is really the key behind any hope to speed up the economy, and the real challenge of Obama’s 2nd term. The president showed some real empathy:

We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. 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. 

Nothing like drawing a line in the sand on entitlements. And he showed some surprising leadership on a delicate but urgent issue,heretofore too hot to touch so directly. Climate change anyone?  :

We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.  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.  The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult.  But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it

Then he got to the speech that contained a social agenda that focused on specific groups—the poor, women, gays and lesbians, the disenfranchised, immigrants, and children:

And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes:  tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice. 

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. 

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.  For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. 

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. 

Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. 

Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. 

Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm. 

Were you covered? If so, you’re a special part of the journey. Gays and lesbians in particular should be encouraged by the inaugural shout out.

But then he added a dose of reality. As he knows from his first term, achieving anything won’t be easy:

That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American.  Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness.  Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time. 

For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

So will the political class live up to the ideal? Or continue to mistake name-calling for debate.  If we know the “work will be imperfect” maybe something real can get done in this second Obama term.

Were we made for this moment? Will we seize it together? Let’s see.

 

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